Container Gardening: Big Benefits in Small Spaces

The interest in growing our own produce increases daily. Everyone can garden, even apartment dwellers and those with limited outdoor space. The Sow, Grow, Eat and Keep series is helping Iowans learn to grow their own food at home. This week’s “Sow, Grow, Eat and Keep” video from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach addresses how to start a container garden to grow tasty foods at home. 

Container gardens offer many benefits including:

  • Requires less space than a traditional garden.
  • Can be done on a porch or patio.
  • Can be placed at a height that reduces bending.

There are many ways to create a container garden. You can use a variety of flower pots or larger containers, such as large plastic buckets, or build raised bed gardens. Almost any vegetable can be grown in a container garden. The best plants are those that are smaller and bushier and do not require staking. Check out the ISU Extension and Outreach publications Container Vegetable Gardening and Container Gardening FAQs.

ISU Extension and Outreach will continue hosting weekly “Sow, Grow, Eat and Keep” quickinars. The quickinars offer 5-15 minute online lessons of seasonally appropriate topics for the garden, food preparation and food preservation. Some upcoming topics include:

  • Cool and warm season crops (lettuce, spinach, peas)
  • Freezing produce
  • Freezer jams (strawberry)
  • Scouting for garden pests
  • Weeding and watering basics
  • Produce food safety
  • Canning produce

For additional resources and publications, visit the Sow, Grow, Eat, and Keep website. Send your food or garden questions to sowgroweatkeep@iastate.edu.

Written by guest bloggers Ruth Litchfield and Sarah Francis. Doctors Litchfield and Francis are faculty in the ISU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.

flower pot

Filling the Gap

The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team has been sharing their kitchens with you and what menu planning looks like for each of them, including tips and recipes.  Unfortunately, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for many families to provide enough food due to lack of resources.  This is particularly true for households with young children.  In an effort to ease the burden on families, I would like to share information about a program available in your community that provides nutritious meals and snacks to children, 18 and under, during the COVID-19 pandemic and the coming summer months.

The USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) was established to fill the gap when children lose access to meals when schools are closed.  Most often this occurs during summer vacation. However, during school closures related to the pandemic, meals are also being made available.  You have the opportunity to supplement the food you have at home with meals and snacks for your children from local schools and community organizations.  In an effort to maintain social distancing, USDA has made temporary changes that allow parents or guardians to pick up meals and take them home for their children.  Organizations have come up with creative ways to make these nutritious meals available in your community through grab and go curbside pickup, providing meals for multiple days at one time, and some including “take and bake” options, and weekend meals.

You can find a meal site in your area via three easy options:

  • Text “Food” or “Comida” to 877-877
  • Call 2-1-1, 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479), or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273) (for Spanish)
  • Visit https://www.fns.usda.gov/meals4kids

Take the stress out of providing nutritious meals and snacks to your children by participating at a site near you!  Spread the word to family, friends, and neighbors!

Stephanie

Stephanie Dross is a Registered Dietitian with the Iowa Department of Education, Bureau of Nutrition and Health Services.  She coordinates the Department’s Summer Food Service Program and loves to garden and cook with her family.

Free Consultations with Family Finance Specialists

This week, our blogs focus on the financial challenges COVID-19 has created for many families. Extension can help. We don’t have a magic wand, but we do have trustworthy information and planning strategies to help you consider your options and make decisions that will work for you in the long run. 
Whether it’s sorting out your priorities, figuring out how to contact creditors, finding ways to stretch dollars further, or addressing some other issue, your local Human Sciences specialist in family finance can provide tools or suggest strategies that will help you make decisions with confidence. Find the specialist who serves your region and contact us by phone or email. Over the phone, by video chat, OR by email, we’ll help you find tools and resources for moving forward, even in this difficult time. Click play below to learn more.

Iowa Concern

One-on-one consultations are available with ISU Extension and Outreach Family Finance Specialists. Call 1-800-447-1985 to get connected with your local specialist.

Posted by Spend Smart. Eat Smart. on Saturday, May 16, 2020

Weighing Financial Priorities During the Pandemic

Guest Blogger, Barb Wollan, Family Finance Specialist

This week, we welcome guest blogger Barb Wollan. Barb is a Family Finance Specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach and her blog relates to weighing priorities during times when money is tight. 

As we focus on what we can control in our personal finances, the most obvious thing we control is our spending. Due to COVID 19, you may have already cut back on some of your normal expenses, like entertainment, but when money is tight, these cuts may not be enough. Choosing your top priorities is critical. Prioritizing includes considering all necessary expenses like groceries and utilities, and it often requires us to separate the things we need from the things we want. Before skipping a bill or making a partial payment, start by getting a complete picture of all your bills and debts – total monthly payments, total owed, current standing (i.e. are you currently caught up), and interest rate or fees for late payment. 

The next step is to consider each bill’s importance. All bills will need to be paid eventually, and it is never desirable to leave bills unpaid or partially paid. However, in times of real financial shortfall, people sometimes have to make tough choices. So how do you choose among your many bills?

Consider what you have to lose if a bill is unpaid. Losing housing, core utilities or a vehicle is generally the greatest possible loss to a household. Therefore those payments may be top priorities for many families. By contrast, getting behind on a credit card account or medical bill payment plan may not affect your immediate well-being. Missing a payment could hurt your credit report, but you can recover from it.  Due to COVID 19, some of your service providers and creditors may be offering assistance to extend your payment deadline and/or help reduce your payment obligations. In most cases, making a minimum payment is better than making no payment. Missing a payment has different consequences on your credit report. Plus, some consequences start immediately, while others may only start after a significant delay in payment. For example, some auto lenders repossess a vehicle after a single missed payment while others wait 60 days. If you take advantage of a COVID-19 payment assistance option, there are a few factors that will determine how creditors report your account to credit reporting companies, learn more about credit reporting under the CARES Act.

In addition to prioritizing among your existing bills, it is also wise to consider what bills you will or will not continue to incur. You may have ongoing monthly subscriptions to video services, cable, newspapers, program memberships or mail-order clubs. Stop and think about whether to continue them during this time. Those are often things we enjoy, and we don’t like the idea of giving them up, but if you’re worried about paying the car insurance or water bill, then it’s appropriate to include these subscriptions as you consider options. Consider your bills that have temporarily stopped, like childcare or federal student loan repayments that are suspended until September 30, 2020. How can these savings be used to pay priority bills? And don’t forget your bills on autopay, if you want more flexibility to prioritize your bills consider removing the auto payment.

If you have to miss a bill payment, check out the website of your service providers or creditor to see if they are offering greater payment flexibility.  And as much as you might dread the phone call, communicating with creditors is essential if you cannot pay on time. The fact that you called and explained your situation will make a huge difference in their willingness to work with you. This is especially true if you have previously been a reliable customer.  Creditors recognize the losses people are facing during this unprecedented crisis. Consider these suggestions for a conversation with a creditor:

  1. Be prompt – call them before your payment is due.
  2. Be honest with them – tell the truth without embellishment or exaggeration.
  3. Ask if they have a pandemic relief option, or a “hardship plan”, that would increase payment flexibility or reduce or eliminate the fees or interest that come with late payments.
  4. Be realistic about your options. If they ask you about when you will be able to make your next payment, give a realistic answer. 
  5. Keep a record of what phone number you called, who you talked with, the date and time of the conversation, and what exactly was agreed.
  6. Monitor your credit report. The 3 national credit reporting companies are offering free weekly online credit reports through April 2021.

Need help with all this? In many communities, a non-profit credit counseling service is available to help you negotiate the process.  To find a reputable credit counselor near you, check with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling; either by phone or on-line, they can do a zip code search to find the member agency nearest you.

On Thursday, Barb will share another resource available to help when making difficult financial decisions.

one dollar bill

What’s Cooking at Christine’s House

On Monday, I shared my approach to planning meals. The strategy I use allows me to make good use of what I have and minimize trips out for groceries. I maintain a list of what I have on hand and I arrange it by food group so that I can make improvised meals and recipes by pulling from each part of the list. I also create some detail within the lists like separating out fresh vegetables from frozen or canned ones. This allows me to spot which items I should eat first to prevent waste.

Here are some examples of improvised meals I can create from my current list. 

  • I have spinach, various veggies and canned beans to make chopped salads for lunch.
  • I can make a Mediterranean-inspired chicken and rice bowl with grilled chicken, spinach, brown rice and feta cheese. 
  • I have tuna, celery, onions and whole wheat bread. Sounds like tuna salad to me!
  • I have fresh veggies, frozen peas and whole wheat pasta to make a tasty pasta primavera. 

My list also helps me think about what recipes I can prepare. I can see that I have all of the ingredients for Scrambled Egg Muffins. I like having these in my refrigerator right now so I can have a healthy breakfast instead of just snacking through the morning. I also have everything for Quick Pad Thai. This tasty meal comes together quickly and uses mostly staple ingredients. Cook Quick Pad Thai along with me!

Happy Cooking!
Christine

Quick Pad Thai

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.

More Posts

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.

More Posts

Save Money with Unit Pricing

Unit pricing is a great way to save money. It helps you determine which brand, which size, or which form is the best deal. It can even save you from being tricked by flashy ‘Sale’ signs. But who wants to stand in the grocery aisle doing math to figure out the unit price? Now you don’t have to! Watch our new video on unit pricing to learn how to use the unit price calculator on our app to help you get the best deal without all the hassle.

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.

More Posts

Good or Bad? Finding Reliable Nutrition Information on the Web

The Keto diet, the DASH diet, the Paleo diet. What about Intermittent Fasting? With the start of a new year, many people set New Year’s resolutions with hopes of making some sort of change in their life. A top New Year’s resolution is to eat better and lose weight. And a popular source people look to for nutrition information is the internet. You can find reliable nutrition information on the web, but you need to be careful where you look and what websites you trust. Below are five tips for finding trustworthy nutrition information online.

  • Consider the source. Choose most often sites that have web addresses that end in .gov, .edu, or .org. These are most often websites for government agencies, educational institutions, and professional organizations.
  • Know the sites purpose. Is it to provide information or to sell something? If available, read the “About” section of the site to help determine the reliability of the information on the site.
  • Look for the evidence. Health decisions are best based on medical and scientific research, not on opinion. Look to see the sources of information for the website. Be cautious of sites that offer information from a single source.
  • Check the date. Health information is continually changing. Check the bottom of the page to find out how recently it was updated or reviewed.
  • Visit a health professional. Online health information should not replace talking with your physician or other health professionals.
  • Along with Spend Smart. Eat Smart., visit www.choosemyplate.gov and www.eatright.org for reliable nutrition information. Next week we will have guest blogger Rachel Wall share red flags to be aware of when considering different diets and how to find an eating pattern that is right 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.

More Posts

Black Bean Burgers

Our June recipe of the month, Black Bean Burgers, is sure to surprise you.  My children love these burgers and eat them just the same as they would a burger made with ground meat.  

I make these burgers for my family again and again, and here is why:

  • They are inexpensive – using beans as a substitute for ground meat saves us money.
  • They are quick in a pinch – on nights when we are busy or time gets away from me, I can make these burgers in about 15 minutes.  I try to keep a can of black beans in my pantry for times like this.
  • They are easy – mash the ingredients together with a fork, form them into patties, and cook them in a skillet.    

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

More Posts - Website

Get your Kitchen Organized for the Holidays

fridgeI am positive that one of the reasons for food waste is crowded, unorganized refrigerators. Just purchased food, as well as leftovers, get lost behind and under other items and spoil before they get used. Crowded, messy refrigerators can be discouraging and make us want to throw in the dish towel and head for the first drive-thru we can find.

We are just starting into the holiday season when you will likely need extra space in your refrigerator to thaw that turkey, make salads for the potluck, cool beverages, etc.  I guarantee that you will save money by spending 1-2 hours cleaning your refrigerator out.

Watch this 3 minute video How to organize your Fridge video or get the handout How to Organize Your Refrigerator.pdf .  Both provide simple, straightforward steps to make the job go fast and easy.

Peggy Signature

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.

More Posts

Join Our Mailing List

Enter your email address:

Categories

Recent Posts

Posts from the Past