Switching out Protein Sources in Recipes

In August, I wrote a blog on ‘Meal Planning Tips for Easy and Healthy Meals’. In the blog I mentioned that the ‘themes’ I use when meal planning are to include a different protein food each night. I use beef, pork, chicken, fish and then have one night that is vegetarian. By doing this I am helping my family vary the kinds of protein foods we eat.

There are lots of vegetarian recipes available but today I wanted to share how I make a recipe vegetarian if the one I want to make originally calls for meat. (When I say meat, I’m referring to anything that is an animal protein.)

Protein is an important piece of good nutrition and meat is an excellent source of protein. So, if I am going to remove meat from a recipe, then I want to be sure and replace it with another source of protein. Some other sources of protein that I use include eggs, dairy, beans, peas and lentils. Tofu would be another good substitute for meat.

Beans, peas, and lentils work well in place of meat in soups and casseroles. Beans also work well in pasta dishes. I use one 15 ounce can of beans in place of one pound of meat.

Cottage cheese is high in protein and I use it in stuffed pasta shells to add protein.

Tofu is a good substitute in dishes that call for marinating meat. The marinade helps to flavor the tofu. A 16 ounce package of tofu could be used in place of one pound of meat.

If you want to try making some recipes vegetarian, here are two Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes that provide tips on how to use beans in place of meat.

Chicken, Corn, and Rice Casserole

Tamale Pie

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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Meat Alternatives: How Do They Stack Up?

Last week I wrote about milk alternatives and how they compare to cow’s milk. This week, we will look at meat alternatives. There are lots of meat alternatives available but how do these meat alternatives stack up nutritionally? And what about cost? Let’s take a look. We have chosen ground beef as a comparison since it is a very commonly chosen animal protein.

 AmountProtein (grams)Saturated Fat (grams)Iron*Sodium*Cost
Ground beef (85/15)4 oz21715% 3%5.99/16 oz
Beyond Meat Beyond Beef®4 oz20520% 15%9.99/16 oz
Impossible™ Burger4 oz19820%16%9.99/12 oz
Tofu4 oz11.611%0%2.99/16 oz
Canned Jackfruit½ cup2020%37%3.49/14 oz

*5% is considered a low source, 20% is considered a high source

Beyond Meat®, which is gluten- and soy-free, is very similar to ground beef in protein content, as is the ImpossibleTM Burger, which contains soy. Tofu is lower in protein than ground beef, but still provides 11 grams in 4 ounces. Jackfruit is low in protein so should not be eaten as main source of protein.

Looking at saturated fat:

  • Beyond Meat® contains 25% of the daily value of saturated fat, similar to 90/10 ground beef.
  • The ImpossibleTM Burger contains 40% of the daily value of saturated fat, similar to 80/20 ground beef.
  • Tofu and jackfruit are both very low in saturated fat.

There are other nutrients that are important to consider, too. Meat is a main dietary source of iron. Iron is not present in most meat alternatives unless they have been fortified (like the ImpossibleTM Burger), so check the label. Finally, most meat alternatives have higher levels of sodium than ground beef. Both Beyond Meat® and the ImpossibleTM Burger are higher in sodium. Tofu is very low in sodium. The jackfruit used in the comparison is canned, so it has a high level of sodium. Other sources of jackfruit may be lower in sodium.

In addition to nutrition, cost also varies among meat alternatives. Beyond Meat® and the ImpossibleTM Burger are both more expensive than ground beef, while tofu and canned jackfruit are less expensive.

As you can see, there are many nutritional differences between meat alternatives. Therefore, it is important to check the Nutrition Facts label when considering meat alternatives or other foods that are new to you. This way, you can choose the best option for your health needs.

Written by Anna Lauterbach, ISU Dietetics Student

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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Spice up Your Protein!

During the summer months the grill on our deck gets a lot of use. My family spends a lot of time outside in the afternoons and evenings. Using the grill gives us the chance to enjoy playing outside without having to do a lot of actual cooking. With the days getting significantly warmer, I jump at any recipe that doesn’t require me to preheat my oven! 

To spice it up, I like creating simple marinades to add variety to our protein before grilling. Growing up, my family spent a lot of time grilling and I learned how to create simple marinades with very basic ingredients. The ratio I use to create my own marinades is three parts oil to one-part vinegar or lemon juice and then add a variety of seasonings or spices. Some of my favorite additions are garlic/garlic powder, Italian seasoning, dried herbs and to keep it simple, salt and pepper. You can also use bottled dressings to marinate your protein like Italian dressing or other oil-based dressings. Other family favorites at my house are the Homemade Teriyaki Sauce and the Honey Mustard Dressing recipe on Spend Smart. Eat Smart.

I have found that I get the best flavor when I marinate my protein in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to 2 hours. Meat proteins like chicken, pork and beef can soak in a marinade overnight if they are in a covered dish in the fridge. Fish is more delicate and 1 or 2 hours is plenty of marinating time. After you begin grilling, make sure you discard any leftover marinade that has been in contact with the uncooked meat because it is not safe to consume or re-use. Use clean plates and utensils after your protein is done cooking to avoid cross contamination. If you prefer meatless dishes, you can also marinate beans and tofu before cooking to add additional flavor. Pair your marinated protein with a quick side dish like Broccoli Salad or Pasta Salad to create a well-rounded summer meal! Watch this quick video on preparing honey mustard dressing as a marinade. I would love to hear your favorite summer recipes–share your go-to marinades with us! Cheers to creating your own marinades at home!

honey mustard marinade

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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Homemade Protein Snacks

Last week I shared the cost and nutrition of three different brands of protein packs. However, when comparing the price of an individual pack to building my own at home, the results can’t be beat. I saved money, used a reusable container to avoid waste, and got more protein than I would have with the store-bought snack packs.

Here are some ideas for building your own protein snack pack. As you can see, most of the items are cheaper than buying the pre-packaged option! All of these snack packs have 10 grams or more of protein per serving and varying calories based on your needs. 

Build your own: 

Grocery Store Total Cost per ServingSupermarket Total Cost per ServingCalories (kcal)Protein (grams)
1 ounce ham + 1 ounce cheddar cheese + 2 tablespoons almonds$1.53$0.9222020
1 ounce cheddar cheese + 2 tablespoons almonds + 2 tablespoons dried cranberries $1.16$0.9025010
1 boiled egg + 1 ounce ham + ½ cup carrots$1.13$0.6016517
2 tablespoons hummus + ½ cup carrots + 1 string cheese $0.97$0.6217510
1 ounce turkey jerky + 1 string cheese$2.12$1.1815020
½ apple + 2 tablespoons peanut butter + 1 string cheese $0.80$0.7030014

To get the most out of the protein you consume, try spreading it throughout the day. Healthy adults need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, according to the Recommended Daily Allowance. The average female would need around 46 grams, and the average male needs around 56 grams of protein each day. 

This blog was written by Iowa State University Dietetic Intern Laurynn Verry.

Protein Snack Boxes – Convenient or Costly?

From work or school to sports practices, events and everything in between, finding time to eat during the day can be difficult! It seems like grabbing a quick snack at the grocery store is a perfect solution…until you compare the cost to individual servings of protein foods. Yes, I will admit that I am guilty of buying these little convenient protein packs to stash in my lunch for a quick afternoon snack before I head out the door to my next event. However, I might rethink how much I’m spending on this packs. 

Below are some common protein packs, which vary from 1.5 – 2 ounce portions. There are many brands that make these packs. I chose these three because they are common national brands and not because of any particular attributes of the products. The average cost from a smaller grocery store was $1.89, the price at a larger supermarket was $1.28 and from a convenience store was $1.75

Cost/Serving Grocery StoreCost/Serving SupermarketCost/Serving Convenience Store Calories* (kcal) Protein* (grams)
Oscar Mayer P3 (ham, almonds, cheddar – 2.3 ounces)$2.19$1.50$1.9919012 
Sargento Balanced Breaks (white cheddar cheese, almonds, dried cranberries – 1.5 ounces)$1.49$1.09$1.691807
Hormel Natural Choice (ham, white cheddar cheese, dark chocolate pretzels – 2 ounces)$1.99$1.25$1.5918010
Average Cost:$1.89$1.28$1.75

*Calorie and protein information from supermarket website

After researching the pre-packaged protein packs, I wanted to check pricing on individual items. Here is what I found. 

Individual costs of protein foods

Cost/Serving Grocery StoreCost/Serving SupermarketCalories* (kcal)Protein* (grams)
Ham – 2 ounces$0.62$0.366010
Almonds – ¼ cup $0.55$0.351606
Peanuts – 1 ounce$0.19$0.121607
Cheddar cheese – 1 ounce$0.25$0.211107
String cheese – 1 each $0.29$0.24707
Eggs – 1 each$0.12$0.05706
Hummus – 2 tablespoons$0.29$0.19702
Peanut butter – 2 tablespoons$0.11$0.091907
Turkey jerky – 1 ounce $1.83$0.948013

*Calorie and protein information from supermarket website

Some of these have more protein in them as a single item than the snack pack as a whole! I even have many of them on hand at home.  Next week, I will share how I put together some of these snack packs in my own kitchen.

This blog was written by Iowa State University Dietetic Intern Laurynn Verry.

Peanut Butter Balls For the Win!

Peanut Butter Balls It is 3:18pm on a Monday afternoon as I write this blog. How do you usually feel around 3:00 in the afternoon? If you’re anything like me, you get a little sleepy and a little hungry – or maybe a lot hungry!

This week’s blog is all about a go-to snack that can rescue you on a busy weekday afternoon when you just need a pick-me-up. Peanut Butter Balls are a sweet, chewy snack that can help you tackle the day.

As you might guess, they contain peanut butter, yum! They also contain two surprising ingredients. The first is dry oatmeal. The oatmeal binds this recipe together and provides whole grain carbohydrate for energy and fiber. You may be shocked to learn that these little snacks also get a protein boost from mashed beans in addition to the peanut butter. Weird, I know! Trust me, they’re delicious and you would never know the beans are in there once they’re dressed up with some peanut butter and honey.

I hope you’ll take my word for it and give these little treats a try. You can whip up a whole batch at once and keep them in the freezer for a quick snack anytime. Perhaps best of all, two Peanut Butter Balls cost just $0.15 to make. I challenge you to find a granola bar or trail mix for that price!


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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Chewy Granola Bars

chewy granola bars Our June recipe of the month is quick, easy, and delicious – Chewy Granola Bars. For a long time, I wanted to make homemade granola bars, but I never got around to it. When I was given the idea for this recipe, I knew it was time to try it for myself. It turns out that it is very easy and it tastes great too.

These granola bars are great for a snack for children or adults and here is why:

  • The oatmeal is a whole grain, which gives the body both carbohydrates and fiber. So, it gives you energy and makes you feel full. Whole grains have many other benefits for our bodies – we will look into these more as we work our way through a whole grain series on the blog this month.
  • The peanut butter adds protein and fat, which can help tide you over until the next meal.
  • The syrup used to sweeten the granola bars adds a delicious maple flavor.
  • These granola bars only cost 8 cents each! That is a small fraction of the cost of a pre-packaged granola bar.

I hope you enjoy making (and eating) your own Chewy Granola Bars this week!



Justine Hoover

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

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Zesty Whole Grain Salad

zesty_whole_grain_saladwpToday I would like to introduce you to one of my favorite Spend Smart. Eat Smart recipes – Zesty Whole Grain Salad. A student shared the inspiration for this recipe with me, and, once I tasted it, I was hooked. I ate it for lunch nearly every day for weeks.

This salad makes a perfect lunch, and this is why:

  • It tastes great with the sweet and tangy homemade salad dressing.
  • The fiber, protein, and fat will fill you up and keep you full.
  • It is easy to pack into smaller containers for lunches on the go.
  • You get fruit, vegetables, protein, and whole grains in one bowl.
  • It simplifies lunch planning for the week because it makes a lot and it stores well in the refrigerator. So you and your family can eat it for three or four days.

Zesty Whole Grain Salad
zesty-whole-grain-salad-label-webServing Size: 6  |  Serves: 1 1/2 cups  |  Cost Per Serving: $1.43

  • 2 cups cooked whole grain (brown rice, kamut™, quinoa)
  • 2 tablespoons oil (canola or vegetable)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 apples, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit (cranberries, cherries, raisins)
  • 1 bunch kale or 10-ounce package spinach (about 6 cups), torn into bite-sized pieces


  1. Cook whole grain according to package directions. Cool.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper.
  3. Stir apples, nuts, dried fruit, and whole grain into dressing.
  4. Toss greens with other ingredients.


  • Substitute 2 cups of chopped fruit (strawberries, grapes, oranges) for the apples.
  • Do not give honey and nuts to infants under one year of age.


Justine Hoover

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

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Don’t Let Dry Beans Scare You

ThinkstockPhotos-175947020wpAs I wrote in my last blog on beans, they fit many of my requirements as a mom and dietitian. They are very nutritious, they’re inexpensive, and they work well in dishes my family enjoys. Most of the time I use canned beans. They are very convenient and besides draining and rinsing, require no additional cooking. You can find ‘no salt added’ canned beans, which is great since many of us get more than enough sodium in our diets. And they usually don’t cost any more than the regular kind. If you’d rather not use the ‘no salt added’ kind, rinse the beans to reduce the sodium.

On occasion, I also like to cook dry beans. And some of my family and friends prefer to cook their own beans instead of using the canned versions. Canned beans are an inexpensive source of protein and when buying them dry, they are even less expensive. You might think that cooking dry beans is too much hassle if you haven’t tried it before. It does take time but most of that time you don’t have to stand over them while they cook. When I cook dry beans, I like to use the Slow Cooker Method.

Here are the steps to success:

  1. Spread 1 pound dried beans on a baking sheet and remove any small stones, dirt or withered beans.
  2. Put the beans in a strainer and rinse them under running water.
  3. Add beans and 8 cups of water to a slow cooker, then cook them on low for 6-8 hours until soft.
  4. Serve right away or freeze the beans in 1 ½ cup portions to use later. One and a half cups is about the amount in 1-15 ounce can of beans. How easy is that?!

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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Beans, Beans the Musical Fruit

ThinkstockPhotos-158913960There are many benefits to eating beans. They are high in fiber, protein, iron, folate, and potassium. In addition, they are inexpensive so easy on the budget. There’s just one little problem…they can cause intestinal gas. And how embarrassing is that! The good news is there are ways to help reduce the amount of intestinal gas caused by eating beans.

  • Add beans to the diet slowly over a period of several weeks. This allows your body to adjust to the added fiber provided by the beans. Once you are eating beans on a regular basis, intestinal gas will be less of problem.
  • Chew beans well to help digest them.
  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids to help your body handle the extra fiber in beans.
  • When preparing dry beans, use the hot (short) soak method of soaking beans. This method reduces many gas-producing substances in beans. Always discard soaking water and rinse beans with fresh water after soaking.

As a dietitian and a mom, beans check all of my boxes. They are very nutritious, they’re inexpensive and they work well in dishes my family enjoys. Keep the tips above in mind and toss some beans in your grocery cart today.

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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