Summer is a time for Food, Friends, and Fun – Find a Summer Meal site near you!

Summer break is almost here!  While learning does not end when school lets out, neither does the need for good nutrition.  Children who are well nourished in the summer return to school ready to learn in the fall. The USDA Summer Food Service Program, administered by the Iowa Department of Education and sponsored by local schools, cities, and community organizations, provides free meals to children when school is out.  

Over 500 summer meal sites, also known as Summer Meal MeetUps, will operate across Iowa from June through August.  All kids and teens, ages 18 and younger, can receive a meal for free, no identification or sign-in is required. In addition to a meal, many sites will offer fun learning and recreational activities, so kids stay active and spend time with friends.  

Plan for a nutritious summer today!  You can find a summer meal site near you, including in Iowa and in states across the US, using one of the methods below.  Meals, days and times vary by location, so check your local site for availability. Spread the word to family, friends, and neighbors!

Summer is a time for food, friends, and fun!  Take the stress out of providing nutritious meals in the summer months by participating at a site near you!  See you this summer!

Written by Stephanie Dross, Iowa Department of Education

Cooking with Venison

ThinkstockPhotos-499155002It is hunting season, so venison is a source of protein that is both inexpensive and easy to find.  Unfortunately, many people do not know how to cook with venison, so it goes to waste.   Venison is similar in structure and taste to beef and pork, so it can be substituted for beef or pork in most recipes.  If you have it, try one of our Spend Smart.Eat Smart. recipes (Skillet Lasagna or Meatloaf) with ground venison instead of ground beef.

Here are some interesting facts on venison (source:  The New Food Lover’s Companion):

  • People often think of deer when it comes to venison, but venison actually refers to meat from deer, elk, moose, reindeer, caribou, and antelope.
  • The quality of venison depends on many factors including the age of the animal (younger animals are more tender), what the animal eats, the time of year (fall is best), and the skill with which the animal was field dressed and transported.
  • Cuts of venison are similar to cuts of pork and beef when it comes to tenderness and cooking methods.  However, venison is somewhat less tender than beef or pork because the animal gets more exercise and, thus, has less fat and more muscle.  For more information on cooking methods, check out this poster from Penn State University Extension on the cuts and cooking methods for venison.
Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Gifts from the Kitchen

With the holidays quickly approaching I’ve been making a list of who I need gifts for. I have to admit, some years I’m the person who is getting a gift right before I need it. However, this year I’m planning ahead because I’m excited to give my family and friends our Healthy and Homemade cookbook. On my dad’s side of the family we do a gift exchange among the adults. This year, I plan to take the Healthy and Homemade cookbook and tuck a grocery store gift card inside for the gift exchange.

I also like to give gifts of food! For my neighbors I like to bake breads to share with them.  This year I’m planning to make them our Banana Oatmeal Bread or our No Knead Whole Wheat Bread. Prepared foods that can be frozen also make great gifts, especially for those who don’t like to cook or aren’t able to. They can heat up the food and have a homemade dish in no time. Some good recipes for this are Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos or Skillet Lasagna.

Share the gift of good food that’s good for you!

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Healthy and Homemade Meals Calendar – Final Quantity Available Now

2016 Chalkboard CoverHow would you like to start each month of 2016 with a tasty new recipe to try?

Whether you’re just learning your way around the kitchen or you’re an experienced cook looking for some fresh recipes, the Healthy and Homemade Meals Calendar is for you!

Each month features an easy, healthy, low-cost recipe as part of a full meal modeled after MyPlate. Here is a taste of some of our featured recipes:

  • Stuffed Peppers
  • Pineapple Snack Cakes
  • Lentil Tacos
  • Simple Apple Dessert
  • Baked Oatmeal Muffins

The recipes and fitness tips in the calendar make it a helpful tool for those hoping to establish healthy habits in the new year and it makes a great holiday gift.

You can purchase the calendar in English or Spanish for just $3.00 from the Extension Online Store. Supplies are limited, so order yours today!

Here’s to a healthy year in 2016!

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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Vegetable Pasta Soup

vegetable-pasta-soupI always look forward to fall, it is my favorite season. I enjoy watching the harvest come in and I like that the weather cools down. I also enjoy putting my soup recipes back into my menu rotation. Our recipe of the month for September is Vegetable Pasta Soup.

Here are the reasons I love to include soup in the menu rotation for the cooler months:

  • It is loaded with vegetables. Many people do not eat enough vegetables, and eating a bowl of soup is an easy way to get the vegetables we need.
  • It freezes well. I value recipes that freeze well because they make future meal prep so much easier. I freeze individual servings for lunches and I freeze larger batches for a quick evening or weekend meal.
  • It is versatile. I do not need to make this recipe the same way twice, so no one gets bored with the same old thing. The vegetables and seasonings can be changed and adjusted based on what I have on hand and what is on sale at the grocery store. And, if I want to add protein to this soup, I simply need to add in a can of beans or some leftover chopped meat. A note of caution if you do change things up with this recipe, watch it closely because you may need to add water.

Try our Vegetable Pasta Soup – it may just make its way in to your menu plans for the cool fall and cold winter ahead.

Enjoy!
Justine

Vegetable Pasta Soup

Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups | Serves: 8vegetable-pasta-soup-label

Ingredients: 
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 cups chopped or sliced vegetables (like onions, carrots, and zucchini)
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning or dried basil
  • 2 cups small whole wheat pasta (shell or macaroni)
  • 6 cups fresh spinach leaves (about 1/2 pound), thoroughly washed (or kale, collard greens, or 10 ounces of frozen spinach)
Instructions: 
  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add onions and carrots. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened. This should take about 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in zucchini and canned tomatoes. Cook 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Stir in the broth, water, salt, and Italian seasoning or dried basil. Bring to a boil.
  4. Stir in the pasta and spinach. Return to a boil.
  5. Cook until the pasta is tender, using the time on the package for a guide.
Notes: Prewashed or ready to eat spinach does not have to be washed. Use plain diced tomatoes for less spiciness.
Tips: 
  • Soup freezes well.
  • Use washed and diced garden tomatoes and homemade broth if they are available. Keep cut tomatoes cold until you need them.
  • Wash fresh vegetables under running water before preparing.
Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Chicken Alfredo Pasta

chicken-alfredo-pastaMy family and I love pasta with alfredo sauce, but I am not a fan of the fat and calories that go along with traditional alfredo sauce recipes. Our recipe for June is Chicken Alfredo Pasta and it is an alfredo sauce makeover that you will enjoy. It has all the creamy cheesiness of a traditional recipe with fewer calories and less fat.

The goal of a meal makeover is to improve the nutrition of a recipe. This can be done by adding fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and by reducing or replacing ingredients that are high in fat, sodium, or added sugar. In this alfredo sauce makeover, nonfat milk and low fat cream cheese are used in place of cream and butter. This switch reduces both the fat and calories. Combine the alfredo sauce with whole wheat noodles, broccoli, and chicken then add some fruit on the side and you have a complete meal.

Put this recipe on your menu soon, and you will have your whole family asking for more!

-Justine

Chicken Alfredo Pasta

Serving Size: 1 1/3 cups
Serves: 6
Ingredients: 
  • 1 pound boneless,skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon oil (canola or vegetable)
  • 2 1/2 cups whole wheat penne or rotini pasta
  • 1 package (16 ounces) frozen chopped broccoli
  • 1 cup nonfat milk
  • 8 ounces low fat cream cheese, cubed
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
chicken-alfredo-pasta-label
Instructions: 
  1. Remove fat from chicken and cut meat into bite sized pieces on a cutting board. Wash hands.
  2. Begin heating water to boiling in a large pot for pasta.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet on medium high. Add chicken cubes to skillet when oil is hot and stir to coat with oil. Cook the chicken for 20 seconds before stirring again. Cook the chicken for 7 to 9 minutes. Turn the chicken cubes every 20 to 30 seconds.
  4. Remove chicken from skillet when it is done cooking and is 165ºF. Cover it to keep it warm.
  5. Cook the pasta using directions on package. Add the frozen broccoli the last 3 minutes of cooking. Drain the water from the pasta and broccoli. Return food to the pot. Do not cover.
  6. Add the milk and cream cheese to the skillet. Stir the mixture constantly over low heat. The mixture will thicken and be smooth.
  7. Add the garlic powder, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir mixture. Then add cooked chicken and heat mixture.
  8. Combine meat mixture with the pasta and broccoli mixture. Serve.
Tips: 
• You can use boneless chicken thighs and legs or leftover chicken instead of chicken breasts.
• You can use other vegetables instead of broccoli.
• Add a few red pepper flakes for color and spice.
• Be sure to use a clean cutting board. Wash your hands before and after handling raw chicken.
Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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I Have a Confession to Make

Last month I wrote a blog about how I plan my meals ahead and how easy it is. Well, I have a confession to make. The past couple of weeks I have not done a good job of planning meals. Between my son’s soccer practices and games and just wanting to be outside in the nice weather as much as I can, I haven’t been as committed to getting my meals planned. I feel like I’ve been in a rut making many of the same recipes for the last few months. Therefore, I am excited to have discovered a new resource from Utah State University that is all about making your own meals based on what you have on hand.

The Create Series has taught me how to prepare a variety of dishes, like casseroles, sandwiches, soups, and skillet meals without a recipe or having to run to the store.  By understanding how some ingredients go together, you can mix and match a variety of ingredients to make your desired dish.

For example, to create a casserole, choose an item from each category below and follow the directions on the handout:

  1. Choose a starch, such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, potatoes, or whole grain tortilla.
  2. Choose a protein such as 1 can beans such as pinto, black, or white.
  3. Choose one to three vegetables like broccoli, carrots, corn, or green beans.
  4. Choose one sauce like a can of cream soup or a can of diced tomatoes with juice.
  5. Choose one or more flavors like chopped onion, green pepper, garlic, or salt and pepper.
  6. Choose one or more toppings such as breadcrumbs, grated parmesan cheese, or grated cheddar cheese.

The Good Foods to Have on Hand handout is also really helpful. By keeping your pantry and fridge stocked with these items, you can make a variety of things to eat in a short time, even if you haven’t planned ahead.

It is very helpful to plan your meals ahead of time but when that isn’t done, use the Create Series to help you get tasty, nutritious meals on the table.

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry

beef-and-veggie-stire-fryDo you ever crave take-out food? When I was in college I used to order take-out at least once a week – sandwiches, pizza, or Asian. It tasted so good and it was convenient. Unfortunately, now I live in a small town and my take out choices are almost non-existent. On top of that, I have a family of four, and take-out every week would take a lot of money out of our budget. So, when I am craving take-out, I try to re-create my favorites with fresh (and budget friendly) recipes at home. Our recipe for the month of May is Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry and it tastes better than take-out.

To make this recipe come together quickly, wash and chop the vegetables in advance when you have a little extra time. Broccoli, carrots, peppers, onion, and celery can all be washed, chopped, and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to five days until you are ready to use them. Also, the next time you make rice, double or triple the amount you need and freeze the extra in freezer bags. Then, when you need rice for another recipe all you need to do is re-heat.

If there are any leftovers, this recipe stores well in the refrigerator. I think it tastes even better re-heated for a quick lunch the next day.

 

Enjoy!

-Justine

Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry

Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups stir fry, 2/3 cup instant brown rice
Serves: 4
Ingredients: 
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 pound lean beef or pork, sliced thinly against the grain
  • 2 cups uncooked instant brown rice (or whole wheat noodles)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 7 cups chopped vegetables (like carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, bell peppers, and onions) or 24 ounces frozen stir fry vegetables, thawed
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
Instructions: 
  1. Mix ginger, garlic powder, soy sauce, and water. Pour ¼ cup of the mix into a sealable plastic bag and save the rest. Add meat to the bag. Seal the bag and set it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.
  2. Prepare brown rice according to directions on the package for 4 servings.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan. When oil is hot, add meat from plastic bag and stir until brown. This will take 1 to 3 minutes. Discard liquid from the bag.
  4. Remove meat from pan and cover it. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to pan.
  5. Add chopped hard vegetables when oil is hot. Stir and cook them for 3 minutes. Add chopped soft vegetables. Stir and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add cornstarch to the saved ginger mixture and stir until smooth.
  7. Return meat to the pan when vegetables are tender. Add cornstarch mixture and cook for about 2 minutes until bubbly.
  8. Serve over brown rice.
Tips: 
  • Wash hands and fresh produce under running water. Trim, peel, and core vegetables using a clean knife and clean cutting board. Then chop or slice the produce.
  • Add a few drops of hot sauce to the ginger mixture if you like a spicy flavor.
  • The meat is easier to cut into strips if you freeze it for 20 minutes.
Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Plan a Picnic with Seasonal Produce

family picnic outdoors meals summerAfter a long, cold winter, nothing feels better than the summer sun. It is a great time to head to the park (or even your own backyard) for a picnic. For me, having a picnic is a way to get some exercise, enjoy the weather, and spend quality time with friends or family. One thing I love about summer is the large number of fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season and inexpensive.

Some examples of foods in season during June, July, and August are tomatoes, bell peppers, and zucchini. The list goes on and on. This list of seasonal fruits and vegetables will come in handy when shopping for fresh produce on a budget whether you’re at the grocery store or farmers’ market. I’m excited to try some new recipes this summer!

Now back to the picnic. I’ve been on a walk with a friend many times and thought about having a picnic, but the thought of packing food and hauling it to the park seems like a hassle. When I think of picnics I normally think of starchy salads like potato or macaroni salad. Hot dogs are also a common picnic food, along with easy-to-grab chips and cookies. These foods are higher in calories and lower in health benefits. Instead, I have some simple picnic ideas that will make it easy to put on those tennis shoes and hit the park:

  • Pack a small cooler full of raw vegetables like carrots, celery, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and radishes. Bring along a high-protein dip like this easy homemade hummus.
  • Use whole grain tortillas or whole wheat pita bread to make a wrap or pita pocket. Make sure to add veggies like spinach, shredded carrots, or chopped bell peppers.
  • Try a salad that is new to your friends or family. I’m going to try this Zippy Zucchini Saladfruit salad
  • A sweet treat is a must under the hot summer sun. Cool down with a homemade fruit salad using a variety of fruits. Make a healthy dressing out of plain yogurt mixed with a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg.

With these easy ideas I’ll have fun exploring both new recipes and the great outdoors! For more simple picnic ideas check out:

https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/2011/07/18/its-too-hot-to-cook/

https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/2013/05/20/tips-for-low-stress-low-cost-entertaining/

 

Janey

Guest blogger, Iowa State University 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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SNAP Challenge Meals

Following our SNAP challenge blogs throughout the month of March, I received some requests for details about the foods I purchased and how I put them together into meals. I allowed myself $28 and I spent $25.01 so that I could use a few things from home (cooking spray, margarine, salt and pepper).

Breakfasts

Baked eggs (raw)Baked eggs (cooked)

Given the cost of meat, I tried to get protein from eggs each day. I made baked eggs twice during the week and ate one or two each morning with a slice of whole wheat toast with margarine, a banana and a cup of milk. My baked eggs recipe is quite simple.

Baked Eggs

  1. Spray a muffin tin with non-stick spray or rub with a bit of vegetable oil.
  2. Put a thin slice of ham in each cup and crack an egg inside the ham.
  3. Bake at 375 degrees until eggs are totally set. This typically takes about 15 minutes.

Lunches

I went to work on five of the seven days of my challenge. I knew I would dwell on food a bit during this week so I wanted to choose lunches that would be very filling. Carrots and celery were the most affordable vegetables at my store, so I needed to base a lot of meals around them. At the beginning of the week I made a vegetable salad with garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) that I ate for lunch with two or three clementines. I made all of the salad at once to get ready for the week. The full salad recipe was 4 cups of chopped carrots, 4 cups of chopped celery and two cans of garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed). Salad dressing did not fit in my budget so I topped my salad with about a tablespoon of reduced fat mayonnaise seasoned with salt and pepper when I sat down to eat each day.

On the weekend days when I was not at work, I ate leftovers from dinner.

Dinners

My twenty eight dollars did not give me room for a lot of variety during my week. There was much repetition. I chose two basic dishes and made them in large enough quantities to provide me with seven dinners plus a bit leftover. These dishes are not really recipes; they are just simple combinations that allowed me to eat relatively healthy for very little money.

The first was a meatless meal of whole wheat pasta with jarred pasta sauce topped with some grated cheddar cheese. This was not a particularly exciting dish, but I was able to get 4 single-serving meals for just $3.87.

The second dish was based around the fact that my store had a special on chicken thighs that made them the most affordable meat option for me. I bought a package of six thighs for $3.88. I built the dish around the chicken and stretched it with some additional ingredients.

Chicken with Rice and Peppers

  1. Individual servingsSeason chicken thighs with a bit of salt and pepper and roast at 425 degrees for 50 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 165 on a food thermometer.
  2. While chicken roasts, chop three bell peppers and cook them in a skillet over medium heat for about ten to twelve minutes.
  3. When the peppers are cooked, add a can of pinto beans that have been drained and rinsed. I used a 24 ounce can. Season with pepper and a pinch of salt.
  4. Cook brown rice according to package instructions. I made four servings, but this is flexible based on how many people you’re trying to serve.
  5. When chicken is done. Remove the skin and pick meat from the bones.
  6. Combine rice, peppers and beans, chicken and two cups of thawed frozen corn in a large pot. Cook over low heat until everything is combined and heated through.

This dish made six large servings and cost just under $10. It could easily serve eight if some sides were also being served.

SNAP Challenge PurchaseAs you can see, the volume of food available for my $28 budget was not too bad, but eating the same dish over and over again did get boring. I also ate less dairy and fruit than would be recommended. I also did not have room in my budget for any beverages beyond milk and water and I did not purchase any snacks.

My menus were largely built around the sales at my store, I chose proteins and vegetables that were at a good price and then filled them out with some whole grain products that are generally inexpensive. Since the challenge, I have continued to think this way when I determine meals for the week. My $28 budget allowed me to purchase most of the foods I needed for a week, but left no room for convenience items or snacks. This meant I spent a lot of time preparing my food and I chose only foods that gave me the nutrients I need.

 

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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