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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Whole Grain Goodness

By Katie Busacca, ISU Dietetic Intern

Whole Wheat LabelMulti-grain, whole wheat, 100% wheat, bran, 7-grain- the options are endless when trying to pick a grain product, but what does it all mean? As many people know, the current recommendation is to make at least half the grain products in your diet whole grains. Whole grains promote heart health, aid in good digestion and may help you maintain a healthy weight. But with all of this labeling deception, how do you know if you are choosing a whole grain product?

When choosing a grain product the best way to determine if it is whole grain is to read the ingredient list. The first ingredient will likely be one of these:

  • Whole wheat
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Whole grain
  • Stone ground whole grain
  • Brown rice
  • Oats/oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Bulgar
  • Graham flour
  • Wheatberries

Whole Grain IconsAnother good rule of thumb is to look for the 100% whole grain or whole grain stamp on the package, as seen on the right. The 100% whole grain stamp means that all of the grains used in the product are 100% whole grain and the product provides at least 16g of whole grains per serving. While the whole grain stamp (without the 100%) indicates that some of the grains used to make this product are whole grain and some are refined grains. These products will include at least 8g of whole grains per serving. Both are great choices!

As whole grain products become more popular, they are also becoming easier to find and less expensive. There are some simple substitutions you can make in your own diet to add the health benefits of whole grains.

Try this… Instead of this….
Whole grain pasta Regular pasta
Brown rice White rice
100% whole wheat bread White bread
Whole wheat tortillas White tortillas
Whole wheat flour All-purpose flour

The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website is full of recipes using whole grain products! One quick and easy recipe I love is the Quick Pad Thai. Not only does it use whole grain pasta, but also it is simple to modify to include your favorite fresh or frozen vegetables. You can also use these simple tips to experiment with recipes and make delicious, healthy creations of your own!

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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I Have a Confession to Make

Last month I wrote a blog about how I plan my meals ahead and how easy it is. Well, I have a confession to make. The past couple of weeks I have not done a good job of planning meals. Between my son’s soccer practices and games and just wanting to be outside in the nice weather as much as I can, I haven’t been as committed to getting my meals planned. I feel like I’ve been in a rut making many of the same recipes for the last few months. Therefore, I am excited to have discovered a new resource from Utah State University that is all about making your own meals based on what you have on hand.

The Create Series has taught me how to prepare a variety of dishes, like casseroles, sandwiches, soups, and skillet meals without a recipe or having to run to the store.  By understanding how some ingredients go together, you can mix and match a variety of ingredients to make your desired dish.

For example, to create a casserole, choose an item from each category below and follow the directions on the handout:

  1. Choose a starch, such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, potatoes, or whole grain tortilla.
  2. Choose a protein such as 1 can beans such as pinto, black, or white.
  3. Choose one to three vegetables like broccoli, carrots, corn, or green beans.
  4. Choose one sauce like a can of cream soup or a can of diced tomatoes with juice.
  5. Choose one or more flavors like chopped onion, green pepper, garlic, or salt and pepper.
  6. Choose one or more toppings such as breadcrumbs, grated parmesan cheese, or grated cheddar cheese.

The Good Foods to Have on Hand handout is also really helpful. By keeping your pantry and fridge stocked with these items, you can make a variety of things to eat in a short time, even if you haven’t planned ahead.

It is very helpful to plan your meals ahead of time but when that isn’t done, use the Create Series to help you get tasty, nutritious meals on the table.

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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SNAP Challenge Meals

Following our SNAP challenge blogs throughout the month of March, I received some requests for details about the foods I purchased and how I put them together into meals. I allowed myself $28 and I spent $25.01 so that I could use a few things from home (cooking spray, margarine, salt and pepper).

Breakfasts

Baked eggs (raw)Baked eggs (cooked)

Given the cost of meat, I tried to get protein from eggs each day. I made baked eggs twice during the week and ate one or two each morning with a slice of whole wheat toast with margarine, a banana and a cup of milk. My baked eggs recipe is quite simple.

Baked Eggs

  1. Spray a muffin tin with non-stick spray or rub with a bit of vegetable oil.
  2. Put a thin slice of ham in each cup and crack an egg inside the ham.
  3. Bake at 375 degrees until eggs are totally set. This typically takes about 15 minutes.

Lunches

I went to work on five of the seven days of my challenge. I knew I would dwell on food a bit during this week so I wanted to choose lunches that would be very filling. Carrots and celery were the most affordable vegetables at my store, so I needed to base a lot of meals around them. At the beginning of the week I made a vegetable salad with garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) that I ate for lunch with two or three clementines. I made all of the salad at once to get ready for the week. The full salad recipe was 4 cups of chopped carrots, 4 cups of chopped celery and two cans of garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed). Salad dressing did not fit in my budget so I topped my salad with about a tablespoon of reduced fat mayonnaise seasoned with salt and pepper when I sat down to eat each day.

On the weekend days when I was not at work, I ate leftovers from dinner.

Dinners

My twenty eight dollars did not give me room for a lot of variety during my week. There was much repetition. I chose two basic dishes and made them in large enough quantities to provide me with seven dinners plus a bit leftover. These dishes are not really recipes; they are just simple combinations that allowed me to eat relatively healthy for very little money.

The first was a meatless meal of whole wheat pasta with jarred pasta sauce topped with some grated cheddar cheese. This was not a particularly exciting dish, but I was able to get 4 single-serving meals for just $3.87.

The second dish was based around the fact that my store had a special on chicken thighs that made them the most affordable meat option for me. I bought a package of six thighs for $3.88. I built the dish around the chicken and stretched it with some additional ingredients.

Chicken with Rice and Peppers

  1. Individual servingsSeason chicken thighs with a bit of salt and pepper and roast at 425 degrees for 50 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 165 on a food thermometer.
  2. While chicken roasts, chop three bell peppers and cook them in a skillet over medium heat for about ten to twelve minutes.
  3. When the peppers are cooked, add a can of pinto beans that have been drained and rinsed. I used a 24 ounce can. Season with pepper and a pinch of salt.
  4. Cook brown rice according to package instructions. I made four servings, but this is flexible based on how many people you’re trying to serve.
  5. When chicken is done. Remove the skin and pick meat from the bones.
  6. Combine rice, peppers and beans, chicken and two cups of thawed frozen corn in a large pot. Cook over low heat until everything is combined and heated through.

This dish made six large servings and cost just under $10. It could easily serve eight if some sides were also being served.

SNAP Challenge PurchaseAs you can see, the volume of food available for my $28 budget was not too bad, but eating the same dish over and over again did get boring. I also ate less dairy and fruit than would be recommended. I also did not have room in my budget for any beverages beyond milk and water and I did not purchase any snacks.

My menus were largely built around the sales at my store, I chose proteins and vegetables that were at a good price and then filled them out with some whole grain products that are generally inexpensive. Since the challenge, I have continued to think this way when I determine meals for the week. My $28 budget allowed me to purchase most of the foods I needed for a week, but left no room for convenience items or snacks. This meant I spent a lot of time preparing my food and I chose only foods that gave me the nutrients I need.

 

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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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The Rhoads’ SNAP Challenge

Vickie Rhoads decided to do the SNAP challenge with her family and share their experience to call attention the fact that nearly 13 % of Iowans are food insecure, meaning they do not have the ability to acquire nutritionally adequate and safe foods in socially acceptable ways. Vickie shared, “We have had friends and family whose income has been reduced due to job layoffs or family deaths”. A one-week challenge certainly does not replicate the complexities of poverty, but it is one way to better-understand the reality many Iowans face.

Rhoads SNAP
Photo courtesy of Captured by Heidi Photo

Paul Rhoads may be the coach at Jack Trice Stadium, but Vickie is in charge at home juggling all of the family’s needs and three very busy schedules. The Rhoads have two sons, one of whom lives at home and the other is at college. Vickie began her challenge by going grocery shopping with her teenage son, Wyatt. He is a high school wrestler and must be careful about his diet, in fact he was preparing for the state wrestling tournament during the challenge.

Vickie’s reflections on this experience included several meaningful realizations:

  • “It’s amazing how much you think about food when it is limited.” This is a quote from Vickie’s reflection log on day 1 of the challenge. This thought points to the importance of food beyond nourishment. We all have routines and habits built around food and when those are disrupted it is uncomfortable.
  • Vickie and Wyatt began by purchasing the foods Wyatt is used to eating to ensure that he would get what he needed for wrestling. Reflecting on the experience, Vickie mentioned, “I didn’t plan for myself very well”. This is a common reality for families working with a tight grocery budget. Children are often prioritized meaning Mom and Dad make some additional compromises.
  • Vickie shopped carefully and did a fair bit of scratch cooking to get the most nutrition for her dollar. She cooked a larger amount of food several times so that she would have leftovers for future meals. The only food they really missed was fresh fruit and vegetables. The budget did not allow for the fresh produce they are accustomed to.

On the last day of the challenge, Vickie reflected back on the week, “It took a lot more planning on my end”.  She also shared that she will do some things differently going forward. First, Wyatt enjoyed the grocery shopping and it was a good learning experience for him. She plans to include him in shopping more often. Second, the experience helped her identify how she could minimize food waste at home by making better use of perishable foods. Third, she has learned about various resources available to families struggling to eat healthy on a budget. “I hadn’t really thought about the programs that are available in Ames for people who need help.” Iowa Food Assistance and WIC provide benefits to families who meet income qualifications. In addition, local food banks and pantries provide food to needy families. To learn how to receive help from a food pantry or make a donation, visit the Iowa Food Bank Association’s website. For families trying to eat healthy on a tight budget, ISU Extension and Outreach offers programs to help you build your nutrition knowledge as well as shopping and cooking skills. Visit our program website for more information.

In this three-part blog series we have looked at the knowledge and skills necessary to eat healthy on a budget. We have discussed planning and strategy as well as the social and psychological role food has in our lives. If you are interested in these themes and hunger-related issues, you can visit the Feeding America website to learn more. Thank you to the Rhoads and Litchfields who shared their stories with us this month!

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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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New Videos that Help you Shop for Fruits and Vegetables

pile of veggiesWhen you’re planning your meals and writing your grocery list, do you ever wonder how many fruits and vegetables to buy or how to get the best deals on them? If so, check out our new series of 2-3 minute ‘how to’ videos. Some of the topics for the videos include:

A few of the tips shared in the videos that I find helpful include:

-Check your cupboards, refrigerator, and freezers to see what you already have.

-Check the grocery ads for what is on sale.

-Buy a variety of fruits and vegetables including fresh, canned, frozen, and dried.

-Use unit pricing to help you decide what is the best deal for you.

Before heading to the grocery store or Farmer’s Market, take a few minutes to watch these videos to learn some new tips to help you when buying fruits and vegetables.

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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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Grocery Shopping with Kids

Shopping with my 3 year-old son, Parker, is always an adventure. One of the stores I shop at has carts that have steering wheels where he sits and another has a ‘car’ attached to the front of the cart that he can sit in. Both of these keep him entertained because he pretends like he is driving. This is nice because it cuts down on the whining and wanting to buy everything. The downside to these carts is that they are big and take up more space going thru the aisles. Sometimes it is worth it though!

In addition to the ‘car’ carts, one of the stores also has little carts that the kids can push. I’m not so sure about this idea as a parent. Let’s just say I’ve held my breath a few times hoping that all of the cans he ran into would not fall. Only a few cans have fallen so far! I’ve also had a few bruises on the back of my legs where he ran into me. I’m usually frantically trying to make sure he doesn’t hit anyone else. Thankfully he hasn’t run into anyone else yet! And lastly, when he is pushing his own cart, and not confined to the child seat in the larger cart, he can grab lots of stuff off the shelves! Funny thing was the other day Parker informed me, “Dad doesn’t let me drive the little cart when I go shopping with him.” Imagine that!

Sometimes I do make it to the store without taking Parker, but that isn’t always possible. And he needs to learn how to act while in a store. In addition, grocery stores can be great places to teach kids. They are a place to learn about good nutrition but kids can also learn about numbers, colors, and shapes.  The University of Maine Cooperative Extension has a great publication on shopping with children. Here are some of the tips they share.

  1. Plan to go to the store with your child when you have plenty of time and the store is not crowded.
  2. Plan shopping trips when your child is not tired or hungry. Or bring a nutritious snack for him to eat during the shopping trip.
  3. Discuss your rules before you enter a store. Remind your child to stay close to you. Also, set ground rules about what is acceptable to put in the cart. Discussing acceptable behavior before going into the store can save a lot of headache later on.
  4. Give your child a job. For example, ask her to help pick out five oranges or three tomatoes. Or let her choose if you get apples or pears. Kids who help pick out fruits and vegetables are more likely to eat them. Older children may like to hold onto the grocery list and cross off the items as you put them in the cart.
  5. Set positive limits. When your child does something you do not want him to do, instead of reacting with a negative limit, such as “don’t throw the oranges on the floor,” tell your child what is expected in a positive way, such as “Keep the oranges in the bin.”
  6. Make the shopping trip a learning experience. Keep kids entertained by asking them questions and having them searching for items. Teach toddlers about touch by asking how different items feel, like the skin of an apple or if the milk is warm or cold.  Teach preschoolers about colors by asking them to point out items of different colors like the green peas or the cereal in the yellow box. Have school-age children look at the labels and compare items based on nutrition.

 

What tips do you have for making grocery shopping trips enjoyable for both kids and parents?


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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Go Green in the Kitchen

Many of the ways we recycle, reuse, and reduce to save energy can also save us money.  While I don’t think of myself as an extreme recycler, I found that I already do many of the suggestions in the two articles below.  Check them out—you might get an idea that will save you some pennies and reduce your energy use:

Save Green and Go Green in the Kitchen is a list from the Canned Food Alliance and 8 Ways to Go Green in Your Kitchen is from WedMD.

I see people using reusable grocery bags frequently when I shop. Just last week I went to a grocery store in Maryland with a friend. At the stores she shops at you have to pay for plastic or paper sacks, but if you bring your own, you get a discount of 5 to 10 cents. Most people brought sacks with them.

My concern about reusable bags is food safety. Researchers at University of Arizona and Loma Linda University asked shoppers going into grocery stores if they washed those reusable bags.  97% reported they do not regularly, if ever, wash the bags.  In addition 75% said they don’t use separate bags for meats and for vegetables, and about a third said they used the bags for carrying and storing all sorts of things like books, clothes, shoes, etc.

The researchers tested 84 of the bags for bacteria and found bacteria in all the bags except for one. The good news is that machine or hand washing reduced bacteria levels to almost nothing.

It’s a good idea to designate a bag for meat and poultry.  When meat or poultry juices touch food that will not be cooked such as fruits and vegetables, you have the potential for cross contamination and foodborne illness. Any type of reusable grocery bag should be hand or machine washed in warm to hot, soapy water at least once a week, and always after a spill. This will keep them clean and reduce the risk of cross contamination.

 

Happy Recyling!

Can I Go Too?

As I was reading the blog Peggy wrote about tracking expenses last week, one line stood out to me more than any other, “I really need to follow my own advice.”  After my most recent trip to the grocery store, I was thinking the same thing.

Usually, my son and I go to the grocery store every Friday morning.  I like to shop at that time because it is quiet and I can get in and out quickly.  I do not have to worry about taking my son to the grocery store; he just sits back and enjoys the ride in the cart.

The problem came this past Friday when my husband had the day off of work.  Even though I knew better, I invited him to join us for our weekly shopping trip.  Many people have trouble with their children asking for treats or sneaking extra food into the cart.  Not me.  My husband is the one who does that.  I spent $15 more than usual!

If I spent an extra $15 each week at the grocery store, that would be $780 per year.  What could your family do with an extra $780 per year?  I can think of a few things that we could do.  So, I have learned my lesson this time, I need to follow my own advice and let my husband sleep in on his day off while my son and I go to the grocery store.

 

 

 

For other tips while at the grocery store, check out:
10 Tips for Saving at the Grocery Store

Justine Hoover, MS, RD, LD

Spending Less and Eating Healthier: Part 3 of 3

Shopping

Almost every day I notice an article about how to save at the grocery store.  We have many of those tips summarized on the SpendSmart.EatSmart website.

Compare unit prices for best buy explains unit pricing and how it can save you money.  A free step by step lesson will make you a whiz at finding the best buy.

Aisle by aisle tips tells the best buys in each food group, how much you need for good health, and how to store food so it will not spoil.  You can also get a concise buying guide from our PDFs called Spend Smart basics on the lower right of each of the aisles pages.

 

 

 

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