Planning for a Picnic

Picnics are a fun way to spend time outdoors while sharing a snack or a meal with friends and family. Now that the weather is getting nicer, picnics are a top priority for my family. Our two-year-old has become a food grazer so picnics are a fun way for us to take our snacks and meals outside. Picnics allow her to eat at her own pace in a new environment while also tiring her out as she explores a park or playground; a win-win for any parent!

My favorite thing about picnics is that they don’t have to be picture worthy or take a lot of preparation. Most of the time, our picnics are spontaneous, and we toss items that we have on hand in a basket or tote and off we go! Below are a few staples that we take with us on our picnic adventures.

  • A blanket or a sheet is a must have! You can’t rely on a park or playground to have a shelter area with tables. Because of this, we always bring a blanket or a sheet to place on the grass to eat or rest. I keep a blanket or a sheet in my car for those impromptu picnic stops to make it easier.
  • Easy recipes are key to making your picnic experience stress-free. If we don’t feel like packing up a full meal, sometimes we pack for quick picnics with easy grab and go snacks like veggies with Vegetable Dip, Crunchy Apple Rollups cut into pinwheels, or Energy Bites with some cut up fruit. On days when I have more time to prepare, I like taking Chicken Salad with crackers or Zucchini Hummus Wraps. Just remember that if you are making items that require refrigeration to pack them in a cooler or lunchbox with plenty of ice/ice packs to keep them safe in the heat.  
  • I always pack sunscreen, hats, and even an extra pair of clothes…just in case! You never know when you may find a fun creek to explore or get extra dirty on a climbing adventure. Packing an extra pair of clothes for my toddler makes the ride home more comfortable and keeps the car significantly cleaner!

Picnics don’t require a lot of time and can be a fun, inexpensive way to spend time outdoors. My favorite memories are from the picnic adventures that were thrown together last minute. You can be picnic ready all season long without requiring a lot of extra work. What new parks and playgrounds will you explore this season?

Cheers to your next picnic adventure!

Katy

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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Brown Rice “Risotto”

Our July recipe of the month is Brown Rice “Risotto”. This is not a traditional risotto recipe which slowly cooks white rice with broth. This mock risotto recipe is much quicker. It calls for instant brown rice and cooks in about 20 minutes making it ideal for someone who needs a quick meal.

In my opinion, one of the best things about this recipe is its flexibility. It can easily go from a side dish to a main dish by stirring in pre-cooked meat or fish towards the end of the cooking time. I have enjoyed chicken, ham, and shrimp added to this recipe. I also like how the recipe allows for substitutions. You can change out the seasonings and the vegetables depending on what you like and what you have on hand. Mushrooms are one of my favorite vegetables, so adding fresh mushrooms and cooking them with the onion and rice is a treat for me. 

At Spend Smart. Eat Smart. we like flexible recipes because you can make them your own with flavors and ingredients you enjoy and have on hand. Here are some other flexible recipes to try out:

Find the full recipe: https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/brown-rice-risotto/

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

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

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Lemon Chia Seed Muffins

Our May recipe of the month is Lemon Chia Seed Muffins. Since I knew this recipe was coming up, I made these for my family this weekend and they were a hit – I made them on Saturday and they were gone on Sunday.

Lemon Chia Seed Muffins are a spin on a traditional lemon poppy seed muffin. The flavor is similar; though, not as sweet because this recipe uses less sugar. The biggest difference you might notice is this recipe calls for chia seeds instead of poppy seeds. We went with chia seeds for several reasons:

  1. Cost: At my local grocery store a 32 ounce bag of chia seeds costs $7.96. This seems like a high price at first, but when you consider this is about 70 tablespoons of chia seeds, you are only spending $0.11 per tablespoon. Contrast that with poppy seeds which are about $0.86 per tablespoon.
  2. Versatility: Now that you have this bag of chia seeds what are you supposed to do with it? Chia seeds are versatile and can be added to many recipes – baked goods, smoothies, and oatmeal. Or you can sprinkle them on top of cereal or yogurt. Seal your bag of chia seeds and store it in the refrigerator after opening.
  3. Nutrition: Chia seeds are different from poppy seeds nutritionally. The biggest difference is chia seeds have about twice as much fiber as poppy seeds. This is a bonus because most of us can use more fiber.

Find the full recipe: https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/lemon-chia-seed-muffins/

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

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

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What to do with Dried Beans?

I recently bought a bag of dried beans on clearance at the grocery store.  I usually buy canned beans, but it was too good of a deal to pass up.  The problem was that I didn’t know how to prepare them! Years ago, I tried to cook dried beans and they ended up crunchy and undercooked.

I discovered a recipe to prepare dried beans using my slow cooker.  The slow cooker cooked the beans overnight! It was so easy. I froze the beans in containers so I have cooked beans ready to use whenever I need them.

Beans are a great way to add protein to meals and save money on groceries. Beans give you long-lasting energy and help you feel full for a long time.  Here are some of my family’s favorite ways to eat beans:

  1. We top salads with beans. Try black or pinto beans for a taco salad or navy or kidney beans for a Mediterranean salad.
  2. We make dips with beans.  Adding beans to dips makes a quick snack full of protein!  Our favorites are Hummus, Black Bean Salsa, and Cowboy Caviar.
  • We add beans to pasta dishes.  A quick dinner my family loves is a box of cooked whole wheat pasta, a jar of pesto (found in the grocery aisle near spaghetti sauce), and a few cups of garbanzo beans.  We mix it all together and it’s ready in 30 minutes.  We serve it with a garden salad or steamed green beans or broccoli.
  • We add black beans or pinto beans to eggs and wrap in a tortilla for a Southwest breakfast burrito!  Try this recipe for a fun weekend breakfast!
  • We make soups with beans.  Soups are a great way to use up a lot of beans.  We like Vegetarian Chili and Minestrone Soup.

Katie Sorrell is a Registered Dietitian who likes to try new recipes. She meal plans and shops at the grocery store on the weekend for the upcoming week.

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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Cooking with Lentils

Last week Brianna wrote about our Garlic and Herb Lentils recipe. If you get a bag of dried lentils to try that recipe, you might be wondering what else you can cook with lentils to use them up. Here are some other ways to add them to your meals:

  1. Use them in our Lentil Tacos.
  2. Substitute cooked lentils for meat in chili, stews and stuffed pepper fillings.
  3. Make a pasta sauce thicker and heartier by adding cooked lentils.
  4. Add cooked lentils to rice, salad, or cooked whole grains to make a protein-rich main dish.
  5. Puree 1/2 cup cooked lentils with 2 tablespoons water. In recipes for baked goods like brownies and muffins, substitute half of the fat with 1/2 cup pureed lentils.

My husband and I really like the lentil tacos. And I’ve made muffins with lentils in them that my son and I liked. I think next I will try adding them to rice or a salad and see if my family enjoys them that way. Lentils are inexpensive, nutritious, and can be used in many ways so I encourage you to pick up a bag and try them out!


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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Garlic and Herb Lentils

Personally, I had never cooked with lentils before trying this recipe. Lentils always had a way about them that was kind of scary. Not quite a bean, but not a pea either. What are these things? Well, I am here to tell you that what was once scary is now a household favorite.

After doing some research, I realized that lentils were full of great nutrients like protein, fiber, and iron, while very low in sodium and fat. They were also only 98 cents for a pound, which is a low price for nutrient-dense food.  I figured, why not give it a try? I used this recipe as a side to baked salmon and sauteed sweet peas, and my husband said it was one of his favorite meals.

It required very little prep time (only cutting the onion and rinsing the lentils), and it turned out very flavorful with the seasonings and chicken broth included. I served the meal with fresh lemons, and my husband used the juice to enhance the flavor even more.

So next time you look at a lentil, don’t be afraid. They are packed with nutritious qualities, fit in your budget, and taste great.

Find the full recipe here: https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/garlic-and-herb-lentils/

Hello! I am Brianna Montross, currently a graduate student and dietetic intern at Iowa State University. Some of my favorite things to do are write poetry, run, and find new ways to incorporate veggies in my cooking.

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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Cooking for Fewer During the Holidays

I love to cook, especially around the holidays! There is something nostalgic about bringing out the box of old recipe cards that are covered in stains and mark-ups from family members altering recipes throughout the years. Cooking holiday meals is a way that I show those around me that I love them, and this has been something that I have had to get more creative with during the past year.

Holidays looked a lot different for many of us in 2020 and this year is off to a similar start. Smaller, more intimate gatherings are still recommended, leading to a slightly different mindset when planning those traditional holiday meals. Check out my list of holiday cooking alterations below to cook for a smaller crowd this holiday season.

  1. Halve your recipes– Over the years I have found that the family favorite recipes that my grandma, mom and aunts used for holiday cooking were meant to feed a village! By cutting those recipes in half, I can spend more money on other ingredients for additional recipes and am not stuck with mountains of leftovers.
  2. Pick recipes that can be used for future meals– Cooking for smaller numbers of family this past year required me to get creative. I love the idea of having versatile ingredients and leftovers that can be used for other meals. Easy Roasted Veggies are a fan favorite at my house any time of the year and the leftover veggies can be used in other recipes like Vegetable Frittata and Vegetable Quesadillas. Ham is a traditional Easter food in my family which leads to a lot of leftovers. I love using leftover ham in soups and quiches. A few of our favorite recipes to use ham are Turkey Vegetable Quiche and Split Pea Soup.
  3. Share the cooking with others– A lot of our neighbors used to travel for the holidays but with the pandemic we have found that everyone is cooking for fewer people or cooking for the first time in several years! I love having meal swaps with my neighbors and the same can be said during the holidays. You may find a new family favorite this way!
  4. Find fun ways to eat your meal with those you love– Not only is cooking for a holiday different during a pandemic, but you are also limited to who you can have in your home to celebrate. Hop on Facetime or a Zoom call with loved ones and coordinate your mealtimes to eat with each other. It is a fun way to talk about the foods you have prepared, and you can still celebrate the holidays with those you love!

Find creative ways to celebrate with those around you to keep the holiday season fun and memorable. Cheers to good health in 2021!

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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Italian Chicken

Our March recipe of the month is Italian Chicken. This is a versatile recipe from beginning to end. You get to choose the number of servings, the cooking method, and how you will serve this recipe.

Before you start, decide how many people you will feed and how many meals you would like to make from the cooked chicken. You can adjust this recipe to make 2 to 8 servings. When you are writing your grocery list, adjust the amount of chicken you buy to meet your needs. One chicken breast half will usually yield about two servings. The size of chicken breasts vary, so make sure to check them closely before you buy them to make sure they are right for you. Keep the amount of tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and seasonings the same. If you use less chicken, you will just end up with more sauce and vegetables with each serving.

When cooking this recipe, you can use a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. Place all of the ingredients in the slow cooker or pressure cooker and then cook according to the manufacturer’s directions. For a slow cooker, cook on low for around 4 to 6 hours. For a pressure cooker, use a cook time of around 10 minutes and a natural release time of 10 minutes.  

You can serve this recipe several different ways. I have served this recipe on cooked rice and noodles. I have also served this recipe on toasted bread as a sandwich or on a bed of lettuce as a salad. Be creative!

Find the full recipe at: https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/italian-chicken-slow-cooker-pressure-cooker/

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

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

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Split Pea Soup

I am happy to share one of my favorite recipes with you today. I have made this Split Pea Soup recipe since my husband and I were first married. Now, quite a few years later, it made its way on to Spend Smart. Eat Smart.

Early on, my husband and I both drove long distances to and from work each day, so we were always very hungry and not interested in doing much cooking in the evenings. We would make Split Pea Soup on the weekend and the two of us had several weeknight meals for the following week. During that time, I enjoyed how this soup is actually even better as leftovers than it is when it is freshly made. In recent years, our commute time has decreased, giving us more time to make meals in the evenings. Now, after making this soup, I immediately divide it in half. Our family eats half of it for one or two meals and I freeze the other half for a quick meal on another night.

One thing to remember about this soup is that it thickens as it cools. This does not bother me because I enjoy thick soup; however, my husband prefers thinner soup. So, if you prefer a thinner soup like he does, you may want to add some water or broth when you reheat it.

To find the full recipe, visit Spend Smart. Eat Smart. at the following link: https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/split-pea-soup/

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

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

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Stuffed Pasta Shells

Happy New Year from all of us on the Spend Smart.Eat Smart. team!

To start off 2021 we have our first recipe of the month – Stuffed Pasta Shells. This is not a new recipe for us, it is an older recipe that we updated a little. This recipe can feel labor intense because you do have to fill each shell with the cheese and spinach filling. However, there are several reasons why I think this recipe is worth your time.

  1. Stuffed Pasta Shells can be made ahead of time. If you have a free half hour, you can get the shells filled and in the pan with the sauce. Cover the pan and refrigerate for up to 24 hours before baking and serving.
  2. This recipe makes more than one meal. My family of five gets two meals out of this recipe, especially if I serve it with salad, fruit, and garlic bread.
  3. Leftovers freeze well for quick meals later on. You can eat part of this recipe while it is hot and fresh and then freeze the rest in single serving containers for quick and easy microwave meals.
  4. This recipe feels special. I always feel fancy when I make this meal because it looks and tastes like something I would get in a restaurant.

https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/easy-stuffed-pasta-shells/

Enjoy!


Justine Hoover

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

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