Overcoming food shortages with substitutions

Most of us have been stuck at home for weeks, many of us homeschooling while working or wishing we were working. Thinking back to how nice it was to miss our family occasionally, while still trying to treasure every moment. It seems unfair that during these uncertain times we also have to worry about grocery stores being fully stocked. Know that you are not alone and Extension and Outreach is here to help. 

It seems that people are stocking up on frozen and canned items that will last longer, which can make it difficult to find the grocery items that you are used to buying. 

For frozen and canned vegetables 

The understanding that most vegetables are interchangeable is helpful here. Substituting carrots, peas, broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, spinach, asparagus, kale, even celery or cabbage for each other will not negatively impact a recipe’s final product. Keep in mind that cooking times may vary slightly, so check your vegetables for doneness before serving. I recommend picking vegetables you know you like, but if you’re feeling adventurous try out a new one!  

Use any frozen or canned vegetables/beans you want in the following recipes:

Vegetable Quesadillas – Kids love helping to build their own.

Quick Pad Thai – A fun take on takeout, try with tofu or edamame for protein if you’re low on chicken.

Pizza on a Potato– Another dish that’s fun for kids and good as a side dish or the main course!

Four Layer Supper– Substitute any canned vegetable or 1 cup frozen vegetables in this recipe in place of green beans.

Making fresh produce last

If you want to extend the shelf life of your fresh produce, Extension and Outreach has some great resources here. This is also helpful to have in mind as summer starts up and farmers markets and gardens start filling up with Iowa’s bounty. 

Substitutes for meat

It has been especially difficult for us to find the cuts and type of meat we are used to lately, so I have taken to using more beans, tofu, and eggs to get our protein. Like vegetables, these items are fairly easy to exchange for each other. Beans and tofu* can be added with the vegetables in a recipe, as they don’t need to be pre-cooked. 

*A note on tofu: We usually buy extra firm (non-silken) tofu, as it holds its shape and substitutes well for meat. Silken tofu is good for soups and smoothies, as it has a much softer texture. I like to marinate my extra firm tofu up to a day ahead of time (use your favorite seasoning and a tsp of oil). If it is your first time using tofu and you are worried about your family liking it, then fry it in a little oil and season it before serving it alongside something they enjoy. 

Here are some of our favorite recipes that work well with non-meat protein sources.

Frittata– Quick and easy weekend breakfast, or we have even been known to have it for a weeknight dinner!

Teriyaki Rice Bowl– Substitute tofu for the protein here for a truly Asian-inspired dish.

Sausage and Vegetable Skillet– Try substituting beans for sausage here, just skip the second step and add beans in with the vegetables.

Black Bean Burgers – Kids love to help form the patties!
Now more than ever it is important to rely on each other and be adaptable. When you are planning your week, stick to recipes that you feel comfortable using different vegetables and protein sources for. AnswerLine is always available if you have any questions regarding substitutions 1-800-262-3804 (9 am-12 pm and 1-4 pm CST). We are all in this together.

Meal Planning at Christine’s House

Like many others, my routine is a bit upside down right now. I am working from home rather than making the trip to Iowa State’s campus each day. I am sticking close to home and avoiding unnecessary trips out of the house. My days look different, but I still want to make healthy choices and enjoy tasty food. I enjoy cooking and I am using this opportunity to do it a lot. For me, planning has helped me eat well and minimize trips out for groceries.

Because I am only cooking for myself, my planning is a bit different from Jody’s, Justine’s and Katy’s. I try to keep it flexible and focus on making good use of what I have. The strategy that works best for me is to keep a running list of what I have on hand from various food groups. From that list, I can spot what recipes I have ingredients to prepare. I can also compose meals by pulling items from different food groups and improvising a bit. The list also serves as a guide for me when it is time to shop. As I use the last of any food, I cross it off and I know I need to add it to my online grocery order. 

Take a look at the picture below for my current list. 

In addition to keeping this ‘foods on hand’ list, I am also trying to maintain some of the habits I had when I was leaving the house every day for work. For example, I keep a container of cut up vegetables in the refrigerator, so that they are easy to grab and throw into recipes or eat as a snack. I also use my water bottle that I used to take to work to keep up with drinking enough each day. 

What strategies work best for you with meal planning right now? Do you keep it flexible or prefer to have more details pinned down in advance? We would love to hear from you, so please share in the comments or on our social media. 


Take care!
Christine

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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A Look Through Gale’s Kitchen

Hi, my name is Gale and I am a nutrition educator with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. I got inspired by Katy’s kitchen plans to do a little organizing myself.  I don’t have a family to cook for, which means I should be more organized, right?  Not at all.  As I was looking through my kitchen, I found out that my bad habits include:

  • Buying condiments and other ingredients, but not having a plan to use them.  I have five different kinds of mustard and two different types of pesto – what’s up with that?
  • Forgetting the fresh produce I already have. It gets buried in the bin below the newer fruits and veggies I buy.
  • Putting the groceries I just bought in front of the older ones. Just like the produce, I lose sight of foods like rice and dried beans in the pantry.
  • Finding interesting recipes I want to try, but setting the recipe aside with a stack of others.

Since I have been home-bound, I am trying to get better about using up what I have on hand.  That way I can avoid trips to the store.  So…

  • I am putting those condiments to good use.  What does Thai curry sauce taste like on frozen broccoli?  Pretty good, it turns out.
  • I am making one of my favorite Spend Smart. Eat Smart recipes, Easy Quiche. This is a versatile recipe, so I can toss in any fresh veggies that are in my refrigerator. 
  • I am using the slow cooker method of preparing dried beans and making chili with them.  I do not need to buy chili seasoning because, when I searched through my kitchen, I found out that I already have all the spices I need. 
  • I am trying to create meals from what I have on hand instead of relying on a recipe.   Things like canned chickpeas, frozen vegetables, brown rice, cream cheese, and dried peas and beans. Hey, I think I just invented dinner!

Have you gotten creative with the foods you have in your kitchen recently?  If so, please share your ideas with us!

Easy Quiche

Gale Francione is a program assistant with the Buy. Eat. Live Healthy nutrition program in Scott County.  She loves concocting dinner, especially with left-overs so they become something totally new.

A Glimpse into Katy’s Kitchen

Over the next several weeks, our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team will be sharing our kitchens with you including how meal planning looks for each of us and some of our top recipes. As situations across the country continue to change, we hope that these tips and recipes will bring you comfort as you adjust to cooking more at home and limiting trips out of the house. 

For me, spending more time at home means spending much of my day in the kitchen. For the past three weeks, my husband has been working remotely from home which calls for extra planning and preparing of snacks and meals. Don’t get me wrong, I love being in my kitchen and cooking for my family brings me great joy. However, the more time I was spending in my kitchen during the day, the more I started to realize that my little kitchen had become quite unorganized. 

Over the past week, I have written down a few goals around organizing my kitchen to make my space more enjoyable. Some of my goals were to go through my cabinets and throw away expired spices and pantry items, clean and organize my fridge, and find new storage spots for kitchen items that don’t get much use but were cluttering my cabinets and counter tops. To help me meet my goals, I used resources from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website on how to Organize Your Space

Organizing my kitchen helped me find pantry items that were pushed to the back of my cabinets that I can now incorporate into my weekly meal planning. I am glad that I had some extra time to clean out my kitchen. I am able to save time by knowing exactly where the items are that I need for any given recipe and it will help lessen the chance I buy some of the items that I had forgotten about which will save me a little bit of money. 

Now that I have my kitchen nicely organized, stay tuned to see how I plan my family’s meals for the week. I would love to hear what your goals are for organizing your kitchen space. Feel free to share any of your kitchen organizing tips in the comments. 

Cheers to organizing your kitchen space!

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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Boost your Muscles Bones and Brain

Being physically active is one of the most important things Americans can do to improve their health. Being active is so good for you. It gets the blood pumping, from your heart to all your muscles, bones and brain. As a result, it prevents a whole host of chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. It is good for our mental health and helps with healthy aging as well.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans released in 2018 refined how much physical activity we need. Adults need 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity physical activity for general health benefits. Moderate intensity physical activity is anything that gets your heart beating faster. The good news is small bursts of activity add up all week long, and they have an activity planner to help you think through when you can find time for activity!

The activity planner helps you choose activity you want to do and see how it can all add up to 150 minutes. It can also help you set weekly goals, get personalized tips and stay motivated.

Let us know how you’re incorporating activity into your day by chatting with us on Facebook (@Spend Smart. Eat Smart.) or Twitter (@SpendEatSmart).

Sarah Taylor Watts, MPA, PAPHS Physical Activity Coordinator Iowa Department of Public Health

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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How to Organize the Kitchen Pantry

I think of myself as an organized person.  However, I know that I have a problem with clutter.  If you have not gotten to the back of your kitchen pantry in a long time, here is a step by step guide that I used last weekend.

  1. Clear off and clean your countertops.
  2. Take everything out of the pantry including food storage containers and other junk that may have accumulated.
  3. Working from the top shelf down, wash and dry the panty shelves including the corners or cracks, to remove crumbs and food particles.
  4. Evaluate the places you store food.  Food stores best in cool dark spaces. Try to rearrange so that your food is kept in the cool dark spaces in your kitchen. Keep your pots, pans, utensils, and tableware in the cabinets near the oven, stove, hot pipes, or refrigerator exhaust.
  5. Sort your food on the countertop by categories. The ones I used were canned soups and broths, canned fruits, canned vegetables, canned legumes, condiments (catsup, pickles, salad dressing, canned sauces, etc.), canned meat/fish, dried beans, and rice and pasta.
  6. Find a place in the pantry for each category. Check the “used best by dates” on the food before putting them back on the shelves. Next week we will have tips on how to decide which foods should be discarded.
  7. Use the same principles as we talked about in The Basics of Kitchen Organization last week. Create centers, get rid of what you are not using, and use your prime space for the most used items.
  8. Use bins and baskets for items like dry pudding mixes, sauce mixes, and bags of dry beans.
  9. Before you quit for the day decide what you what to do with the items you removed from your shelves.

What did I gain from this exercise?

  • Oil, vinegars, and syrups were moved from above the stove where it is warm to another cupboard.
  • 4 bottles of balsamic vinegar were found?!? I think part of the problem was I could not see to the back of that cupboard.
  • Expired can of cream soup that said “best used by” 4 years ago was found. The soup is probably safe but I decided not to chance it and threw it away.
  • Canned goods were organized by putting multiples on the shelves and one of a kind on the shelves on the back of the door.
  • Through this process I found some pizza crusts and rice noodles I forgot I had. Menus were made to use them next week.
  • I do not need to buy canned tomatoes, black beans, or canned green beans for a while.

The picture to the right shows some of the things that I am removing from my kitchen:

  • I am throwing away the old food.
  • My niece who has a new apartment is going to check out if she needs any of my utensils or dishes.
  • I am taking the rest to the Free Store which takes household items. They give them to families who are moving out of Children & Families of Iowa’s Domestic Violence Services. Most communities have a center to give away items you don’t need.

Doesn’t it feel good to help someone else AND have a kitchen which is easier to work in?

How Being Organized Saves Money

Does an organized kitchen save money?  I say yes because:

  • If you are organized, you won’t buy duplicates of things you already have. Can you see in your cupboards? How many jars of cumin and cans of cream of celery soup do you really need?
  • If you are organized, you will throw away less food like leftovers hidden at the back of the refrigerator or frozen meat left so long it has freezer burn.
  • If you are organized, your kitchen will be more enjoyable to work in and it will take less time to make a meal and clean up.
  • If you are organized and know what you will make for dinner, you will be less inclined to buy fast food or rush through the deli section of the grocery store.
  • If you are organized, you will know where the coupons are that you cut out and you will use them before they expire.

During January, our SpendSmart.EatSmart blog will feature tips for getting organized in the kitchen.

Please start us out by sharing some of your tips or thoughts about organization. (Just go to our blog site and in the upper right corner by tittle and date click on the comment section and add your ideas)

I’ll start.  When I was a kid my mom used to tell us “There is a place for everything and everything in its place.”  When we lost something she would say “If you pick up everything and put it away you will find it.”   (she was usually right)

Plan a lunch that won’t get traded away

Have you ever visited your kids’ school lunchroom. Imagine the New York Stock exchange–only with yogurt being exchanged for a sack of chips instead of stocks being bought and sold.

One of the most important tips for packing lunches that your child won’t trade away is to involve them in the planning, shopping and preparation of their meals. Children who help select items are likely to remain interested in their selections…and will probably look forward to trying them. This is also true for meals at home, but even more important for meals eaten away from you.

-pointers by Peggy

Shopping with Kids

We all know it is much easier to shop without kids along, but sometimes it can’t be avoided.

Recently, Ruby, an Extension staff member, shared how she dealt with this issue as a single parent. Together, she and her pre-school daughter planned their meals and snacks, wrote their grocery list and then went to the store. When the four-year old saw something she wanted, they’d check the list. If it wasn’t on the list, they didn’t buy it.

The list was specific. If they needed cereal, the brand was included. No more ‘middle of the cereal aisle’ arguments as to whether to buy plain Cheerios® or a pre-sweetened cereal with a favorite character on the package front. Yes, the four-year-old sometimes said “we need to put that cereal on the list next time,” but generally forgot about it when time came for the next planning session.

Snacks were part of the planned list, too. It is much easier to guide a child’s snack choices at home where healthy snacks can be planned for, than in front of the tempting candy or chip section at the store.

What about toys, books, and other trinkets? Since they didn’t eat them, they weren’t on the list!

Looking back, Ruby realizes this strategy has lots of benefits. They stayed within their limited food budget, ate healthier food choices, her daughter learned discipline at an early age and they shared a pleasant time together.

What do you do to make shopping with kids a little easier?

For additional shopping tips check out when to shop on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. site.

-contributed by Joyce Greving

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