Canned and Frozen Produce Over Fresh? Give it a Try!

Last month Jody wrote a blog highlighting tips to help us save money at the grocery store. Recently I have found that some of the fresh produce I used to buy on a regular basis has started to increase my family’s grocery bill. To lower my grocery bill but still get the same nutritional benefits, I have found that swapping in canned and frozen produce options has worked out well for many recipes that my family enjoys. Below are a few tips for purchasing these options.

  • Before adding the canned fruit or vegetables to a dish or recipe, rinse off the liquid that they have been stored in. This can help remove extra sodium or heavy syrups.
  • Avoid purchasing canned items that have dents or look misshapen as those could have potentially harmful bacteria that could make you sick.
  • Check out this Seasonal Produce Guide to determine when produce is in season. If a recipe calls for produce that is out of season, purchasing it fresh will likely be more expensive. Using the canned or frozen option could be a great way to make your favorite recipes without the added cost.

I love keeping a variety of canned and frozen produce on hand to use for quick side dishes or as a substitute in place of a fresh option. A few of my favorite recipes to use canned vegetables and fruits include Quick Fruit Dessert, Berry Crisp and Quick Black Bean Salsa. Frozen produce is also a great option because it tends to be more cost friendly and has a much longer life than fresh options. Try adding frozen fruit to smoothies like the Berry and Greens Smoothies or frozen vegetables to the Teriyaki Rice Bowl. Both canned and frozen vegetables are versatile and can be used in many soups for quick, easy meals.

What dish would you like to make with canned or frozen produce? We’d love to hear how it turns out!

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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Planning your Meals with Family Favorite Recipes

Planning your meals and using your meal plan to make a grocery list are a top tip for saving money on food. By planning your meals and using a list when you shop, you know exactly what you need to buy and are less likely to buy items you don’t need.

However, sometimes meal planning can seem overwhelming because you just don’t know what to make or you’re worried your family won’t like what you make and then the food (and money!) will be wasted. One solution to help with both of these concerns is to create a list of Family Favorite Recipes. By writing down recipes or meal ideas your family likes, when you sit down to do your meal planning, you will have a list of ideas to choose from and you will know that they are foods your family will eat.

We have recently added two Family Favorite Recipe sheets to our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website. One is divided by different categories including breakfast, side, main dish, salad, soup, and snack. The other is divided by protein type including beef, pork, fish, poultry, venison, and vegetarian. After adding your favorite recipes, keep the list handy so when you are ready to plan your meals, you can use it for some inspiration.

Some of my family’s favorite recipes are Oatmeal Pancakes, Quick Pad Thai, Mexican Chicken Soup, Quick Black Bean Salsa, and  Energy Bites. Are any of these on your list of family favorites?

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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Get Hooked on Fish!

Fish has always been a large part of my diet. Growing up on the coast, my family had access to a variety of seafood. My love for seafood has not changed even though I now call Iowa home. On my weekly meal plans I typically add 1-2 meals that include fish as our main protein. Our daughter has been eating a variety of fish dishes since she started trying foods, so I keep fish on hand for easy meals I know my family enjoys.

Fish, especially fresh, can get expensive. Jody mentioned great tips last week on how to reduce food waste and save money at the store. There are several ways that I cut down on the cost of purchasing fish. I look for what is on sale at the store each week, buy in bulk when I can, and I also purchase frozen options. When buying in bulk, I will grab a larger cut of fish and portion it out when I get home to store in the freezer for later. Buying fish and seafood when it is on sale helps add variety to our meals.

A few of my family’s favorite fish dishes are Fish Tacos, Baked Fish and Chips, and Fish Sandwiches. I also love to add fish into recipes like Build Your Own Omelet and Whole Meal Salad. Another way that I incorporate fish into my family’s diet is by keeping canned tuna and salmon in my pantry for quick, less expensive protein options. Salmon Wraps using canned or leftover salmon make for a quick lunch, as well as using canned tuna for Tuna Melt Sandwiches.

A variety of fish can be used in most fish recipes. Find options that are on sale to try and enjoy getting hooked on fish!

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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The Total is What??

It’s no secret that food costs are rising. My trips to the grocery store are costing me more than usual and I imagine yours might be too. Here are a few ways to save money on food, including tips for reducing food waste. For additional information and resources on how to make the most of your money at the grocery store visit us at Spend Smart. Eat Smart.   

  1. Try the store brand. Do a blind taste test to see if your family can really tell the difference. They may be requesting foods because of the advertising or packaging.
  2. Use unit pricing. Sometimes the larger size is a better buy and sometimes it’s not. Use unit pricing to get the best buy for your money. Determine the unit price using the unit price calculator on our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app.
  3. Choose both animal and plant-based sources of protein. Enjoy both chicken and black beans in our Cheesy Chicken Enchilada Bake.
  4. Store fruits and vegetables correctly. To make the most of what you buy, be sure you can eat it before it goes bad. Check out our videos on storing fruits and vegetables.
  5. Add nearly-too-ripe fruit to yogurt or use in smoothies, muffins, cobblers, or crisps. Add berries to a Yogurt Parfait or use ripe bananas in Banana Oatmeal Bread. Enjoy them for breakfast or a snack.
  6. Switch to skim milk. Lower fat milk costs less so switching to skim means spending less money.
  7. Power up low-cost staples Add protein and vegetables to mac and cheese or Ramen noodles to give them a nutrition boost. Try Meat and Veggie Mac or Ramen Noodle Skillet.

Over the next few weeks we’ll continue to share additional cost savings tips here on the blog and on social media so be sure to check 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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Fish Tacos

Our April recipe of the month is Fish Tacos. This is a homemade version of restaurant fish tacos with coleslaw and chopped veggies wrapped in a corn tortilla. I enjoy this recipe because the different flavors and textures come together to make a delicious meal.

As you read through this recipe, you will probably notice there are a lot of tips at the end. That is because this recipe is like most other taco recipes – you can change things up to make the recipe your own. Here are a few ways we like to change this recipe up at our house to make our own unique tacos:

  • The last couple of times I made this recipe, I used the tip to bake the fish instead of pan-frying it like in the original recipe. I like the crispy texture of the pan-fried fish better, but the oven version saves clean-up time, which is what I need right now.
  • We always make our coleslaw with different types of dressing because I like ranch, but my husband does not. We have found that French dressing works well in this recipe.
  • When I make tacos, my children expect a lot of toppings. So, in addition to the coleslaw and chopped tomato, I set out beans, corn, chopped onion, chopped peppers, salsa, and shredded cheese. That way, each person can make their own unique taco. As an added bonus, the leftover toppings make a great taco salad for lunch the next day.

Use this recipe to make your own unique taco.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

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

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Microwave Baked Potato

Microwaving a potato is a quick and easy way to add a baked potato to a meal. Sometimes potatoes get a bad rap for not being good for you. However, potatoes are a good source of potassium and Vitamin C and they do not cost a lot. The instructions for microwaving a potato were a little out of date on our website, so we have updated them. Below are the steps and some recipes to go along with your microwave baked potato. You can also find the instructions on our website at: https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/microwave-baked-potato/

Steps to making a microwave ‘baked’ potato:

  1. Scrub potato under warm, running water.
  2. Prick potato 6 to 8 times with a fork.
  3. Place potato on a microwave safe plate.
  4. Microwave on high for 5 minutes.
  5. Flip potato over. Microwave on high for 2 to 5 more minutes or until potato is tender. Additional time will depend on the size of the potato and the power of the microwave.

You can make either one or two potatoes at a time using these steps.

Use microwaved baked potatoes in these recipes:

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

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

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Loaded Potato Soup

Our March recipe of the month is Loaded Potato Soup. Potato soup is a favorite in my home. It comes together pretty quickly and it makes a filling meal in one bowl.

My favorite thing about potato soup is that this recipe easily adjusts to make more or less depending on our needs. If I want to have leftovers throughout the week, I double this recipe. I have also found this freezes well, so I sometimes make a double batch and freeze some for a future meal. On the other hand, if you are cooking for one or two, you can cut this recipe in half to make a smaller batch.

My family’s favorite thing about potato soup is that they can add all kinds of toppings. Shredded cheese, diced ham, and soup crackers are their top choices. Though they would also like crumbled bacon, sliced green onions, or our homemade croutons (click this link to find the recipe). You can choose your favorite toppings to make this soup your own.

Find the full recipe for Loaded Potato Soup here: https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/loaded-potato-soup-2/

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

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

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Tracking My Family’s Food Expenses

Budgeting can be challenging, and it can take time before you find a system that works best for you. My husband handles finances as part of his job so at home I handle most of our day-to-day expenses to give him a break. After some trial and error, I have finally found a system that seems to work for us. 

The first step is to have a general idea of how much a family similar to yours should spend each month on food. Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has a Grocery Budget Calculator to help you determine what that range might look like for you. Based on this tool, my food budget should be close to $679.26 a month for our family of 3. This tool did not factor in that I am currently expecting our second child later this summer and that my dietary needs have shifted slightly. However, our spending is pretty close to where the calculator says our family should be.

To determine if I was close to the amount calculated by the budget calculator, I kept all my food receipts to see how I was spending. I looked at groceries, convenience store stops, take out and coffee runs. Once I had the receipts in front of me, I could see which areas were costing us the most. The smaller items like takeout and convenience trips seem to add up the quickest in our house. To help me stay on track, I decided we would set a monthly budget for these purchases and keep an envelope with the budgeted amount in cash. Using cash for those items helps us stay on track and we know not to exceed our monthly budget once those envelopes are empty. This method has helped me eliminate a few unnecessary food expenses by purchasing coffee to make at home rather than purchasing it out and packing snacks on days I know I will be traveling as opposed to purchasing from convenience stores.

I know that not everyone can have a specific amount of cash for these types of expenses. Another idea that worked for us in the past was to keep a small piece of paper in our wallets to mark down each time that we made a purchase and the amount. You may be surprised at where your money is going. This can help you narrow in on where you would like to cut back or where you can spend a little bit more.

Additional tips to help save money on food:

– Look at weekly store ads for deals- swap out fruits, vegetables, and even meat options for ones that are on sale.

– Meal plan and stick to your list- straying from my list tends to lead to an overabundance of produce and items that may not keep well before I can use them.

– Pick meals where items can be used in a variety of ways- for example, if peppers are on sale at the store one week, my meal plan would consist of Stuffed Peppers, Vegetable Quesadillas, and the Sausage and Vegetable Skillet to ensure that the produce gets used without going to waste.

What have you found to be helpful when tracking your own food expenses? We’d love to hear what works for you!

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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Time for a Breakfast Recipe Round-up!

My husband and three-year old LOVE breakfast. As soon as they wake up, they head straight to the kitchen. During the work week, we don’t have as many opportunities to sit down as a family with a large breakfast, so we tend to opt for quicker options on those days. On the weekends I favor making recipes that require a few more ingredients and take additional time to prepare, especially if we are entertaining guests.

One thing that I love about breakfast recipes is how versatile they are. We often make breakfast recipes for lunch and dinner- really whenever it sounds good! Whether you need fast, easy breakfast recipes or have a little bit more time to make something that requires additional prep work, Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has plenty of options to try.

Below I have highlighted a few of my family’s favorite breakfast recipes. One thing that I love to do is turn traditional side dishes or main dishes into breakfast items. With a simple swap or addition of ingredients, you can make a variety of recipes into a great breakfast meal!

Favorite quick recipes:

  • Need a grab-and-go option for busy mornings? Overnight Oats are quick and tasty! Change up the flavors by adding in different fruits and spices.
  • Peanut Butter Balls and Energy Bites fall into the dessert and snack categories on the website, but these are wonderful options for breakfast! We make these in big batches and serve them with a hard-boiled egg and fruit to make a complete meal.
  • Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos are a great option to make ahead and place in the freezer. These only require a few minutes to heat up and can be an easy way to use up vegetables.

Favorite recipes that require additional time:

  • Turkey Vegetable Quiche is a go to recipe for my family! It is fantastic leftover, and the turkey can be substituted out for leftover chicken, ground sausage, or ham.
  • We love pancakes at our house! The Blueberry Pancakes and Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes have added fiber to keep us full longer.
  • Vegetable quesadillas are a surprisingly excellent option for breakfast. At our house we add scrambled eggs to our quesadillas for a fun spin on a breakfast burrito.
  • Easy Roasted Veggies is a versatile side dish. Make up a batch to have with any breakfast recipe to add extra vegetables!

Cheers to finding a new recipe favorite for breakfast!

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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Cranberry Oatmeal Bars

Our February recipe of the month is Cranberry Oatmeal Bars. I have this recipe on my favorites list because of its usefulness. Is this recipe a snack? Yes. Is this recipe a breakfast? Yes. Is this recipe a dessert? Yes! I could probably end this blog here, but since I have found so many uses for this recipe, I have also picked up a few tips along the way. Read on for my tips on making a great batch of Cranberry Oatmeal Bars for any meal or snack.

  • Make sure to finely chop the dried cranberries. They stir into the batter easier if they are smaller. Also, use a sharp knife if you have one, it will save you time and frustration with chopping the cranberries.
  • The same thing goes for the nuts. If you choose to add nuts, make sure to finely chop them.
  • Do not overbake these bars. If you do, they will crumble apart when you cut them. When they are done they will be lightly browned around the outer edges and the center will be set.
  • If you are a chocolate lover, swap the cranberries and nuts for mini chocolate chips. This version always goes over well at my house.
  • Eat them while they are still warm. I like to share these with family or friends within an hour of taking them out of the oven because they are warm and chewy and they bring joy.
  • Once cooled, cover the bars tightly and eat within two or three days. They will start to dry out the longer they sit out on the counter.

To find the full Cranberry Oatmeal Bars recipe, visit:
https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/cranberry-oatmeal-bars-2/

Justine Hoover

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

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