Gluten-Free Label Reading: The Basics

Written by Lynette Wuebker

Student Assistant, ISU Dietetics

As a college student, I am always looking for quick, easy, and healthy meals that won’t break the bank. One of my go-tos this month has been Sweet Pork Stir Fry. Here’s the catch, 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, which means that I have to eat gluten-free. So how do I take a recipe that seems to be full of gluten and enjoy it? Gluten-free label reading has become my best friend as I walk through the grocery store aisles each week, and I promise it’s not as daunting as it seems!

The first thing that I look for on any package is the little black “Certified GF” stamp. If I see this, I know that the product was carefully produced so that it won’t contain any gluten. If I can’t find this, the next step is to pick up the box and start reading. Since some products have ingredient lists longer than my arm, I look for a few keywords: wheat, rye, barley, malt, brewer’s yeast, and oats. If I find any form of these words on the ingredient list, I won’t be buying it. For example, most soy sauces contain wheat as a thickener, so I have to be extra careful when looking to find gluten-free soy sauce. If I’m unable to determine if a product is gluten-free, then I don’t buy it. However, I am able to find a wide variety of foods that are gluten-free.

Click here for more information on gluten-free label reading.

On-line Grocery Shopping Part 3 – Cons

Welcome to the third part of our blog series about on-line grocery shopping. If you did not see the first two parts of this series, here are the links to the overview and the pros of on-line grocery shopping. Today we are going to look at, what I think, are the cons to on-line grocery shopping.

 

The first challenge that I have with on-line grocery shopping is the PRODUCE.

  • I like to look around the produce section to see what looks best and is the best value. I cannot do this when looking at the pictures of the produce on-line.
  • Someone else chooses your produce for you, so you may not get what you would usually choose for yourself. However, I have received good quality produce in my experiences so far.

 

The second challenge that I have with on-line grocery shopping is LEAVING AN ITEM OFF.

  • It usually happens that I forget to buy something or that an item is unavailable. This leaves me in a bind when I am trying to make a meal later in the week. I either have to make a special trip to the store or use what I have on hand to make a substitution.
  • When this happens, I cannot do on-line shopping for the single item because they have a minimum order cost ($30 at one store and $100 at the other). However, at one of the stores you can pay a fee if your order is under the minimum cost.

 

The third challenge that I have with on-line grocery shopping is PERSONAL.

  • I am a food person, so I like to look around at all the different foods in the store. I do not get this chance with on-line shopping.
  • I like to take my children to the store so they can learn about shopping and choosing foods.
  • I cannot use re-usable bags with on-line grocery shopping.

 

I feel like I have balanced these challenges well with alternating on-line and in-store grocery shopping. I think the pros of on-line grocery shopping outweigh the cons and I plan to continue with on-line grocery shopping.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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On-line Grocery Shopping Part 2 – Pros

Welcome to the second part of our blog series about on-line grocery shopping. I hope you enjoyed our overview last week. This week I would like to tell you about all of the things I think are great about on-line grocery shopping.

 

The first thing that I like about on-line grocery shopping is the TIME SAVINGS.

  • It only takes me about 30 minutes to select the foods I want and set up my pickup/delivery time.
  • I do not need to fight the crowd in the store or in the parking lot.
  • I do not have to take my children into the store.
  • The grocery store staff load up my car or help me carry my groceries into my house.

 

The second thing I like about on-line grocery shopping is the MONEY SAVINGS.

  • It is easy to stick to my budget because I can see the total price increasing as I add foods to my cart.
  • I can easily add or take away food items as needed to fit my budget and my needs.
  • There is no temptation to buy the extra things displayed around the store, so I avoid impulse buys.
  • I have all of the information on the website to determine unit prices and compare products easily.

 

The third thing I like about on-line grocery shopping is the KINDNESS of the staff.

  • I have had great experiences with the grocery store staff being very kind and helpful.
  • The staff do a great job of explaining any substitutions that were made.
  • The staff make a point of keeping fragile foods (bread, eggs) safe.

 

Overall, I think that on-line grocery shopping is a great experience and it is very helpful, especially when I do not have a lot of time. I would recommend on-line grocery shopping to anyone who wants to try it.

 

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Kids and Technology in the Grocery Store

This week in our series on getting kids involved in the cooking and shopping, I’m going to share some tips for getting kids involved in grocery shopping. When I was grocery shopping with my 4-year-old daughter recently, I was thinking what I might share in the blog. As she was pushing the little cart she was using, I was thinking, children might look cute pushing those little carts but as a parent, sometimes they are my worst nightmare. Funny thing is, when I was back in the office and reading through some past blogs, I shared those same thoughts in a blog about grocery shopping with my son 5 years ago when he was 3! I’d encourage you to read that blog for ideas to get younger kids involved when grocery shopping.

Today, I’d like to share a couple of ways older kids can be involved with grocery shopping.

  1. Use our grocery budget calculator. The online calculator provides the weekly and monthly amount your family needs to spend for nutritious meals on USDA’s Low-cost Plan. To use the calculator you will need the age, gender, and number of meals eaten away from home for each member of your household. You and your child can then compare this to how much you spend on groceries. The online calculator provides tips on how to reduce your grocery bill if you are spending over that amount. It also provides ideas if you are spending under that amount. This activity can help children better understand the cost of food and why it’s important to not waste food. If you’re not sure how much you spend on food, we have resources for tracking your food expenses.
  2. Download and use our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app. Older kids who have cellphones can download our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app to use in the store. Or you can let them use the app on your phone when they are shopping with you. Kids can enter information into the unit price calculator to help you determine which item is the better buy. Or they can look up information about different produce in the store using our Produce Basics to help you determine how to select produce and how you might prepare it at home.

Next week in our series we’ll share a recipe kids can help make.

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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Get Kids Involved in Healthy Cooking & Shopping

When I was a child, my mom always had me involved in the kitchen and grocery shopping. I went with her on every grocery run and was in the kitchen ready to help her cook every meal. I loved every minute of this time with my mom, whether it was getting to pick out the best tomatoes from the supermarket or learning how to whisk eggs, I had fun and learned so much about cooking. I am still passionate about these activities today, making time for grocery shopping once a week and making most, if not all of my meals and snacks at home. I feel that my story is an example of the importance of getting children involved in the cooking and purchasing of foods in order to allow them to learn valuable kitchen and shopping skills and build an understanding of their food choices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it comes to grocery shopping and cooking at home, we tend to hesitate when it comes to getting our children involved. At times it may be due to you being rushed to make dinner, in a hurry to get out of the supermarket, worried about the hazards that exist in the kitchen, hot ovens and stove tops, sharp knives, raw ingredients, or just afraid of the mess that may be left behind. However, when we involve our children in age-appropriate activities in these settings we are able to teach them valuable cooking and purchasing skills. Bringing your kids into these activities with you can also allow them to develop healthy habits like how to identify more nutritious food options while grocery shopping and adding a variety of fresh produce and colors to each meal, for example. Here are some ideas of how you can get your child involved in grocery shopping and in the kitchen.

In the grocery store: 

  • Give your kids the task of finding items on your grocery list in the supermarket.
  • Allow them to pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try when grocery shopping.
  • Play “I Spy” in each section of the grocery store.

In the kitchen:

  • Give your kids the responsibility of washing fresh produce.
  • Let them sprinkle on herbs and seasonings to foods you are preparing.
  • Let them tear up lettuce when preparing salads or snap fresh green beans when preparing dinner.

Take the time to introduce your kids to these activities to allow them to build core lifestyle skills that they can use for the rest of their lives. It is a wonderful opportunity for parent-child bonding. Allow them to help, try new foods, and exercise their creativity. Just take a moment to enjoy all of the messes and memories.

Written by Allie Lansman, ISU Dietetic Intern

Choosing the Perfect Melon

Many big sweet green watermelonsHave you ever bought a melon thinking how wonderful it will taste, only to find that when you cut it up, it doesn’t have any flavor? How frustrating that is! Here are 5 steps to picking a ripe melon.

1. Look for damage.
Choose a melon that’s not damaged on the outside. It should not have any bruises, soft spots, or cracks.

2. Check the color.
When buying watermelon and honeydew, choose a melon with a dull looking appearance. A shiny outside is an indicator of an underripe melon. Honeydew melons should be pale yellow in color, not overly green. For cantaloupe, the skin underneath the net-like texture should be golden or orange in color. Avoid cantaloupes with green or white color skin.

3. Check the size.
Pick up a few melons and see how they feel. Choose a melon that is heavy for its size.

4. Check the stem.
The stem end should give to gentle pressure but not be soft.

5. Smell it.
This works best with cantaloupes and honeydew. Ripe melons should smell sweet but not be overwhelming. If it smells really sweet, it might be overripe.

Good luck choosing your next melon!

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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Shopping at the Meat Counter (Part 1)

Butcher behind counter in supermarket smiling, portrait, close-upWhen I step up to the meat counter at the grocery store, I get a little nervous.  There are dozens of choices, a wide range of prices, and a smiling person waiting patiently on the other side of the counter.  I do my best to come into this situation prepared, but it can still be nerve wracking.  This week and next week, I am going to write a little bit about how I make decisions about what to buy at the meat counter when I go grocery shopping.

Here are some of the things I do before visiting the meat counter:

  • Check out what I have on hand. I like to see what I have on hand and then decide what meat I can buy to go along with it.  Right now, I have a lot of potatoes from my family’s garden, so I would like to get some meat that I can put on the grill along with the potatoes.
  • Check the grocery ads. I like to see what is available at a reasonable price before I go to the store.  It does not mean I am locked into buying what is in the ads, but it does give me an idea of what meat might fit into my budget.
  • Check my freezer space. I like to freeze meat when I can get it at a good price.  The grocery store where I shop occasionally sells ground beef and chicken hindquarters in large quantities.  These are meats my family eats a lot of, so, if I have the freezer space, I will buy the larger quantities at the discounted price and then freeze them in smaller portions for another week.  Some grocery stores also sell meat bundles – these may be a good deal if you have the freezer space (and the money) available.
  • Check my schedule. I like to take time to cook a great meal for my family, but time is not always on my side.  The meat I purchase has to fit into my family’s schedule for the week.  If it is going to be a busy week, I usually look for a whole chicken or a roast that I can cook on the weekend and then use the leftovers to make quick meals the rest of the week.  If we have more time, I will plan to grill or try a new recipe.

Shopping at the meat counter can be intimidating, but planning ahead can help a lot.  If you have suggestions for planning ahead that I missed here, please let me know in the comments.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Less Waste, More Money

By Sarah Allen, Nutrition Program Student Assistant

Freeze Bean SoupIn my Let’s Talk about Food Waste blog last week, I shared about what food waste is and how much it can cost you. Reducing food waste is not as hard as you think. The USDA has created a resource called Let’s Talk Trash. In it they offer tips on how you can put a stop to food waste in your home.

  • Plan and Save: Look in your pantry, freezer, and fridge to make a list of what you need to buy before grocery shopping. This can help you buy only the food you need and keep money in your pocket.
  • Be Organized: After you buy food for the week, make sure that you keep things tidy. You can do this by having it sorted by expiration date. An easy way to keep cans organized is to take a permanent marker and write the date large enough to see. Put products with the earliest date toward the front of the cupboard, so they get used first.
  • Repurpose and freeze extra food: Sometimes having the same meal for the whole week can be boring. One way to use leftovers is by making them into a new meal. For example, if you have leftovers from our Tasty Taco Rice Salad recipe, use as a substitute for the filling in our Stuffed Peppers When you freeze food, write the following on the container:
    • The name of the food,
    • How much is in the container, and
    • The date that you put it in the freezer.

For more information on how you can store leftovers longer, watch How to Freeze Leftovers.

It may seem overwhelming to make these changes, but once you start, it will become a habit. I hope you can use these tips to help you save money!

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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Let’s Talk about Food Waste

By Sarah Allen, Nutrition Program Student Assistant

Money in Trash BagIt is that time of year when fresh fruits and veggies are in season, and the grocery store has specials on meat for grilling. However, sometimes you buy too much and have to throw away food because it goes bad before you can use it. Food waste is particularly problematic when you are trying to stick to a tight grocery budget because you get nothing for your money if food goes in the trash.

How much money is that? On average, we waste $370 worth of food per person per year in the US. USDA’s Let’s talk trash. infographic breaks it up by types of food:

Grains (bread, pasta): $22 per year
Fruits (apples, banana, orange): $45 per year
Proteins (beef, chicken, pork, fish): $140 per year
Vegetables (onion, lettuce, peppers): $66 per year
Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese): $60 per year
Added Fat & Sugar (chips, candy): $37 per year
Total: $370 per year

As you can see, protein is one of the top types of food that we throw away, while foods like bread and pasta are least likely to be thrown away. This seems like a lot of money (and food). Why do we throw food away? The main reason is because it spoils before we can eat it.

Food waste may seem hard to avoid, but you can reduce it. The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website has a lot of ideas for how you can save your food in the Reduce Food Waste section. Look for my blog next week on how you can limit food waste!

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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Meal Makeovers with Whole Grains

Taco Rice SaladI did not grow up eating a lot of whole grains. Actually, I did not truly know what a whole grain was until I was an adult. Last week, our intern guest blogger wrote about how to find out if a food is whole grain or not. This week, I would like to share with you how I have replaced refined grains with whole grains in my menu.

  1. The first, and easiest, change I made was to start buying whole wheat bread for our toast and sandwiches. With some trial and error, I have found a whole wheat bread that everyone in my family likes. Thankfully, it is also the least expensive whole grain bread at my local grocery store. Try whole grain bread in our Tuna Melt Sandwich.
  1. The second change I made was to use brown rice and whole wheat pasta. This change was a little more difficult because my husband and I were used to the softer texture of white rice and pasta, but now we prefer both the texture and flavor of the whole grain versions. Try brown rice in our Tasty Taco Rice Salad and whole grain pasta in our Roasted Tomato and Spinach Pasta.
  1. The third, and most challenging, change I made was replacing all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour in our baked goods. One of my husband’s favorite foods is muffins of all kinds. I knew that we could make our muffins healthier by replacing some of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. It took some experimenting, but now our favorite muffin recipes include both whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour (the amounts depend on the recipe). Try whole wheat flour in our Pineapple Snack Cakes.

My husband and I started adding whole grains to our menu little by little and now the majority of the grains we eat are whole grains. It has taken time and compromise, but we are happy with the choices we have made.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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