All Forms Fit!

Last week Christine shared some tips for storing produce so you can enjoy it before it spoils. One of the tips was to mix up the form of fruits and veggies that you use. As she mentioned, all forms can be part of a healthy eating pattern. Using different forms of produce in my meal plans helps my family and I eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables while still staying within my budget and the amount of time I have to spend in the kitchen.

Here are some questions I ask myself when I’m deciding which form to buy.

  • Is the produce in season? I buy fresh produce when it’s in season. It costs less and is likely to be at it’s peak flavor. When it’s not in season, I don’t buy it or I buy it frozen or canned. You can freeze extra produce if time and space allow for use at a later time. For more information on freezing produce, check out this handout.
  • How will I use the produce? For example, if I’ll use tomatoes in a soup or stew, I’ll most often choose canned tomatoes. However, if I’m using the tomatoes in a salad, fresh tomatoes are probably a better choice.
  • How much waste is there? If I buy fresh broccoli, I’ll pay for the entire weight, even though my recipe might only call for florets. In this case, I may choose the frozen broccoli florets.
  • How much time will it save me overall? In addition to the cooking time, I also think about the preparation and clean-up time. When I’m short on time during the week, I plan meals that use produce that takes little time to prepare. For me, this means I use more frozen and canned options on weeknights.

Here are some of the different forms of fruits and vegetables that my family enjoys for our meals and snacks. 

Fresh: baby carrots, bell peppers, snap peas, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries

Frozen: peas, corn, carrots, broccoli, stir fry vegetables, mixed vegetables, blueberries, and mixed berries

Canned: black beans, tomatoes, green beans, pineapple, mandarin oranges, and applesauce

Dried: raisins and cranberries

Juice: 100% orange juice
For more information, watch our video on How to Get the Best Deal on Fruits and Vegetables.

Tomato
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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Labeling on Food Packages

My commitment to giving my children fewer pre-packaged snacks this summer has gotten me thinking a lot about food labels and the impact they have on our food choices.  I have done a better job of providing my children snacks that do not have a label on them at all – like fresh fruits and vegetables.  But, it is hard to avoid foods in packages.  For example, we are eating nuts that come packaged in a bag, cheese that I have cut into cubes from a large block, yogurt from a plastic container, and cereal from a box.  All of these packages have labels and all of the labels can impact my food choices.

Some labels are pretty plain – basically telling me what is in the food I am buying.  Like my block of mild cheddar cheese.  Other labels are more complicated – using claims like light, sugar-free, lowfat, reduced sodium, and more.  My container of yogurt has a couple of these claims.  Still others are very complicated – using claims such as made with whole grains, healthy, or natural.  A box of cereal may have some claims like these.  Are these claims giving me information about the nutrition of the food, are they a marketing tactic to get me to buy the food, or is it a combination of both?  I think it is a combination of both, and I know I want to make the best choices for my family.

For a starting point, we have some information about food package labeling and claims here on our website.  If you want to know more about food label claims, here is an article that I found very helpful.  For me, the bottom line is this – no matter what the food package looks like on the front, turn it over and read what is on the back or the side.  Read the Nutrition Facts Panel and the ingredients list to find out what is in the food and inform your decision about whether or not you want to buy the food for yourself or your family.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Hitting the Road!

packed lunch healthySummer is the perfect time to load up the car for a getaway with the family. Regardless of the destination, you’ll need to eat along the way. The highways are lined with fast food restaurants and gas stations, but that’s about it. Not only are the options at these places high in calories and low in nutrients… they can get expensive too!

At the Drive-Thru:

Fast food restaurants may seem like the inexpensive choice at first. But when the whole family is hungry, it can get pricey. Check out what you could end up spending on one trip through the drive-thru.

  • 1 Bacon Cheeseburger Meal (fries and drink included) – $6.49
  • 1 Fried Chicken Sandwich Meal (fries and drink included) – $6.19
  • 2 Kids Meals- $3.19 each
  • Total = $19.06 plus tax

In addition to the cost, meals at fast food places are packed with sodium, fat, and calories. One sandwich can have over 500 calories and 1000 milligrams of sodium and a medium fountain drink can contain a quarter of a cup of sugar.

At the Gas Station:

Gas stations and convenience stores may be quick and easy, but it will be hard to find healthy options.

  • 2 bags of chips – $1.99 each
  • 2 candy bars – $1.39 each
  • 2 sodas – $1.79 each
  • 2 bottles of juice -$1.99 each
  • Total = $14.32 plus tax

You could spend almost $20 for food that isn’t very filling. It won’t be long before hungry stomachs have you pulling over at another exit.

Even if you find healthy options on the road, you can count on spending more than if you bring food from home. A banana at a gas station costs about $1.00, you could bring 4 bananas from home for the same price.

From Your Cooler:

Take control of your road trip! Fill up a cooler with snacks before you leave. You can choose healthy options, and you’ll save money that you can use for other fun adventures on your trip. Check out this meal:

  • 4 turkey sandwiches on whole wheat bread – $5.44
  • 2 apples- $1.58
  • 2 bananas- $0.38
  • 4 low fat cheese sticks- $1.42
  • 1 package of baby carrots- $1.28
  • Ice water in reusable bottles – FREE
  • Total = $10.10

Just like that, you’ve made a meal that keeps everyone full and happy for half the price. You can rest easy on your trip knowing that your family got the nutrition they needed. Now, bring on the open road!

Maddie
ISU Student

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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Peanut Butter Balls

peanut-butter-ballsMy children are at an age when they need to eat two snacks every day. Just last week I skipped the morning snack one day because we went to the library and on a bike ride. By lunch time both of them were laying on the couch crying. I made a quick lunch, got them fed, and all was good again, but it reminded me how important snack time is for young children. Their bodies are growing, but their stomachs are still small, so they need their food spaced evenly throughout the day.

If you are looking for a new snack for your family, try out our July recipe – Peanut Butter Balls. They have peanut butter, beans, and oatmeal – all of which will give you energy and fill you up until your next meal. After I make this recipe, I lay the peanut butter balls out on a cookie sheet and freeze them for about an hour. Once they are frozen, I put them in a freezer bag and store them in the freezer. When snack time comes around, I grab two out of the freezer for each person, let them thaw for a few minutes, and then we enjoy them.

I hope you enjoy this Peanut Butter Ball recipe too!

-Justine

Peanut Butter Balls

Serving Size: 2 balls | Serves: 25
Ingredients: 
  • 1 can (15 ounces) great northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups quick cooking oatspeanut-butter-ball-label
Instructions: 
  1. Mash the great northern beans with a fork in a bowl until smooth.
  2. Add the honey and vanilla. Stir.
  3. Add peanut butter. Stir until blended.
  4. Stir in the oatmeal.
  5. Wash hands. Use a tablespoon to scoop up some of the peanut butter mixture. Shape the mixture into balls (makes 50 balls).
  6. Store leftover balls in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Tips: 
  •  This recipe is not for children under age 1 because it contains honey and peanut butter.
  • You can use a blender or food processor to mix ingredients before shaping into balls.
  • You can store peanut butter balls in the freezer. Lay them out on a cookie sheet, freeze, and then store in a freezer bag. Thaw for 5 minutes before serving.
  • Make fruit kebabs using a toothpick or kebab stick. Add washed fresh fruit pieces that will not brown such as kiwi slices, grapes, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, and orange slices.
Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Homemade Popsicles

If you are looking for a delicious, yet healthy dessert for your Fourth of July celebration, try homemade popsicles. My family enjoys popsicles this time of year (or any other time of year for that matter).

I am excited to share our tasty apricot pop recipe! Simply pour a can of apricots (drained) and two cartons of vanilla yogurt into a blender. Blend the mixture together and then pour into popsicle molds or into paper cups with wooden sticks.

For festive, patriotic pops, you can switch up the color by replacing the apricots with another fruit:

  • Red: 2 cups strawberries, finely chopped
  • White: 2 medium bananas, finely chopped
  • Blue: 2 cups blueberries

Just like with the apricot pops, combine the fruit and the yogurt in the blender and blend until smooth then pour into popsicle molds. If you do not have a blender that is no problem, simply stir the fruit and yogurt together and pour into the molds – the color and texture will be different, but the flavor will still be great.

Have a happy Fourth of July!

-Justine

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Snacks for the Pool

Summer is in full swing and my children love spending time at the swimming pool. My son really likes getting a treat at the pool snack bar. I let him get a treat every once in a while but I balance that by bringing our own snacks the other times. Depending on how often you go to the pool, the cost of getting treats can add up. And the options are not always very healthy. My son and daughter really need an afternoon snack, but if they are swimming actively in the hot sun, I don’t want to give them heavy foods. Here are some snacks I like to take from home.

  1. Frozen fruit-For a sweet treat, freeze grapes, blueberries, or individual containers of unsweetened applesauce. Put in a cooler or an insulated bag and let thaw slightly while playing in the water.
  1. Whole grain crackers-These are a good option in place of chips and can provide more fiber.
  1. String cheese-Along with the whole grain crackers, enjoy some string cheese for added calcium. Keep them cold in an insulated bag or cooler with an ice pack.
  1. Trail Mix-This is a breeze to make. Here are a couple of options Popcorn Trail Mix and Take-along Trail Mix. For children under age 3, it is best to make without peanuts and dried fruit to reduce choking.
  1. Muffins-Make a batch of muffins and freeze them. Then thaw out when you need a quick snack. With strawberries that are in season, try these Super Strawberry Oatmeal Muffins. Put these in an insulated bag or cooler with an ice pack to keep them from getting too hot and sticky at the pool.
  1. To stay hydrated, fill reusable water bottles with water and ice cubes made out of 100% juice. (Check out the June 8 blog for more tips on hydration.)

Enjoy your time at the pool this summer!

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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Summer Snacks for Healthy Kids

apricot popsSummer is right around the corner. The days are getting longer, and kids are out of school. The warm weather is perfect for spending time outside with your kids. There are so many ways to get active in the summer – I love to hit the pool and go for walks in the evening. But with all this fun activity comes the need for yummy snacks!

Every kid loves taking an evening trip out for ice cream. But these days, one treat costs $2-5. These Apricot Pops are just as tasty as a treat from an ice cream shop, but they are much cheaper. They are made with real fruit and yogurt so they are healthier too!

Another cool treat to try is the Fruitastic Summer Smoothie Blast. Smoothies are so easy to make and are ready in seconds. These taste delicious and pack a punch of vitamins and minerals that healthy kids need.

Fresh fruit is so tasty this time of year that it makes a fine snack on its own. Want to get the freshest produce at the best price? Check out this video to learn to shop for seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Maddie

ISU Student
Spend Smart Eat Smart Team

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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Fuel Your Body with the Right Snack

hummus veggies snacksLiving on a college student’s budget is difficult and planning meals ahead of time is not easy with so much of my time going to work and school. When I have lots of school work to do, I usually eat more snacks than meals. I am prepared for those busy weeks! I have stocked my apartment with a supply of nutritious snacks that I can easily grab and enjoy throughout the day. The right snacks give me the energy I need to get me through my busy schedule and keep me feeling good all day long.

This past summer I did a pricing project as part of my work on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team. I compared the prices of healthy fruits and vegetables to the prices of less nutritious but more traditional snack foods. As you might expect, sugary fruit snacks, cookies, and chips were often less expensive when compared to, whole wheat crackers, cheese sticks, and fresh fruits. But, when I stepped back to think about what I was getting for my money I realized that the healthier foods were actually a greater value!  I need the protein, vitamins, and minerals that they provide. The other snacks were really inexpensive, but also didn’t really contain the things I need to stay alert and keep my energy up.

For example, I could purchase whole grain crackers and peanut butter for $0.44 per serving. I could purchase chocolate chip cookies for $0.16 per serving, but I would miss out on the whole grain, protein, and fiber that keeps me full. The cookies would cost me less, but it seems to be a case of “you get what you pay for!”  When I see a week coming up on my schedule with lots of exams or projects due, I will stock up on snack foods that include whole grain, protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber. I will also try to make sure each of my snacks includes two food groups. Here are some ideas to get your healthy snack stash started!

  • Bananas and peanut butter
  • Cheese slices and whole grain crackers
  • Sliced Turkey and pretzels
  • Carrots and hummus
  • Yogurt with fruit
  • Apple slices and string cheese

 
Taylor

ISU Dietetics Student

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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School Spirit is in the Air – Go Cyclones!

CyCookingForBlogThis weekend the Iowa State University Cyclones have a football game against the Baylor Bears. We’re underdogs going into this one, but the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team is hoping for a Cyclone victory!

I like to go to tailgates and have people over for football games, but sometimes the food served at football celebrations is pretty unhealthy. I challenged myself to remake a couple of typical football snacks the Spend Smart. Eat Smart way. My recipes are fun, festive and ready for the football game!

I started by thinking about the veggie trays at tailgates. Someone always brings one but often they don’t get eaten. I think this is usually because they are kind of boring and everyone really wants the sweet and salty snacks instead. Not to mention, these often come pre-made from the grocery store and cost way more than a veggie tray made at home. I made mine festive with peppers in Cyclone colors and instead of the usual ranch veggie dip, I made Garbanzo Bean Dip. It is a tasty and inexpensive alternative to the old standby. If you like hummus, you’ll love this dip!

dip and cereal treatsDesserts are always a favorite at tailgates. I usually see lots of brownies, cookies and bars. Sometimes for early games there are even cinnamon rolls! I wanted to have a sweet treat that was a little healthier so I chose to make Whole Grain Cereal Treats. These are very similar to the rice cereal treats we all know and love, but with the added health benefit of whole grain. I even added some red sprinkles to show Cyclone pride!

Next time you’re going to a football get-together, think about putting a healthier spin on the dish you take. Game time food can be healthy and inexpensive while still being lots of fun!

s Signature-1

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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Back to School and Time to Refocus!

blog sept 8The lazy days of summer are officially over and for many families hectic schedules have begun.

Here are my top 5 tips for busy families!

1. Breakfast: Make sure your child starts each morning with a nutritious breakfast, whether it is at home, at school, or even on the way to school! Make sure fruit is a part of the breakfast so your child is on the right track in getting their fruits and veggies in for the day.  Children who eat breakfast have fewer tummy aches during school, so they are better able to concentrate and focus in the classroom.

Breakfast Ideas
Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Oatmeal Pancakes (they can be made in advanced and kept in the freezer and reheated, just like the ones in the freezer section)

2. Lunch: You have the power to inspire your child to build a healthy plate at school and at home.  School lunch programs offer healthy, well-balanced meals.  Review the school menu with your child and encourage them to try new foods and reinforce healthy eating by offering similar new foods at home.  If your child brings a lunch from home, discuss with them what foods to include and focus on providing foods similar to a complete school meal (whole grains, protein, fruit, vegetable and low-fat or fat-free milk).

Tips to Build a Healthy Meal

3. Snacks: My 4 year old pretty much sums it up, “I don’t like food, I like snacks!” Processed snacks have consumed our children’s diets.  When you think of snacks, think of them as mini-meals.  Have fruits and vegetables, whole-grain crackers, low-fat cheese, small sandwiches, yogurt, and fat-free/low-fat milk ready for after school snacks.  Make healthy snacks the easy choice!

It’s Not Just a Piece of Candy Blog
MyPlate Tips for Parents

4. Family Meals: Focus on each other at the table.  Talk about fun and happy things at mealtime.  Turn off electronics and try to make eating meals a stress-free time.  We use ISU Extension and Outreach Conversations cards when we need to revive our family meal conversations.  My daughters love them!

ISU Extension and Outreach Conversation Cards

5. Physical Activity: Make sure your child has plenty of opportunities to be active and that doesn’t mean they have to participate in organized sports. Make physical activity part of your family’s lifestyle, not something that you have to carve time out to complete.  Walk the dog together as family.  Involve the whole family in household chores, cleaning, vacuuming, and yard work. When it is time to celebrate as a family do something active as a reward, such as go to a park your family hasn’t been to before, go swimming, check out a new bike trail, or find a roller skating rink nearby (yes they still exist!).

MyPlate Be an Active Family Tips

As a parent or caregiver, you are the most important influence on your child.  You can do simple things that will help your children develop healthy habits for life.  What is something new you want to try this week?

 

Guest Blogger,
Carrie

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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