Plan a Picnic with Seasonal Produce

family picnic outdoors meals summerAfter a long, cold winter, nothing feels better than the summer sun. It is a great time to head to the park (or even your own backyard) for a picnic. For me, having a picnic is a way to get some exercise, enjoy the weather, and spend quality time with friends or family. One thing I love about summer is the large number of fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season and inexpensive.

Some examples of foods in season during June, July, and August are tomatoes, bell peppers, and zucchini. The list goes on and on. This list of seasonal fruits and vegetables will come in handy when shopping for fresh produce on a budget whether you’re at the grocery store or farmers’ market. I’m excited to try some new recipes this summer!

Now back to the picnic. I’ve been on a walk with a friend many times and thought about having a picnic, but the thought of packing food and hauling it to the park seems like a hassle. When I think of picnics I normally think of starchy salads like potato or macaroni salad. Hot dogs are also a common picnic food, along with easy-to-grab chips and cookies. These foods are higher in calories and lower in health benefits. Instead, I have some simple picnic ideas that will make it easy to put on those tennis shoes and hit the park:

  • Pack a small cooler full of raw vegetables like carrots, celery, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and radishes. Bring along a high-protein dip like this easy homemade hummus.
  • Use whole grain tortillas or whole wheat pita bread to make a wrap or pita pocket. Make sure to add veggies like spinach, shredded carrots, or chopped bell peppers.
  • Try a salad that is new to your friends or family. I’m going to try this Zippy Zucchini Saladfruit salad
  • A sweet treat is a must under the hot summer sun. Cool down with a homemade fruit salad using a variety of fruits. Make a healthy dressing out of plain yogurt mixed with a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg.

With these easy ideas I’ll have fun exploring both new recipes and the great outdoors! For more simple picnic ideas check out:

https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/2011/07/18/its-too-hot-to-cook/

https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/2013/05/20/tips-for-low-stress-low-cost-entertaining/

 

Janey

Guest blogger, Iowa State University 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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Breakfast at the Campsite (Making Homemade Granola)

justine camping
Daniel and I resting by the lake after a long hike during a camping trip.

My husband (Daniel) and I grew up in families that loved to go camping. Some of our best childhood memories are from camping trips. When we began dating we discovered our mutual love for camping and began planning some of our own camping trips. Meals are a big part of camping, so we work together to plan meals for our camping trips.

We found out right away that our families had enjoyed many of the same foods for lunch and supper – fresh fruit (especially grapes and berries), foil packets (meat and vegetables wrapped in foil and cooked over the camp fire), grilled burgers and hot dogs. However, we clashed when it came to breakfast. Daniel was happy to pack a box of cereal and grab a handful to munch on whenever he got around to eating in the morning. I wanted a full breakfast with eggs, sausage, toast, and orange juice.

Even after more than 10 years of camping trips, we have not really been able to solve our breakfast dilemma. This summer, we are going to try homemade granola to see if it satisfies us both. Daniel will be able to satisfy his hunger for cereal and I will be able to satisfy my hunger for a full meal when I add nuts and dried fruit and stir in some yogurt.

Even if you are not a camper, you can try out our Crispy Granola recipe for any meal or snack. You can also check out this video on How to Make Homemade Granola.

Tomato Time – Yum

tomato and spinach pastaTomatoes are by far the most popular vegetable grown in our gardens, and for good reason. They are tasty, nutritious, versatile, relatively easy to grow, and return high value for the space they occupy.

I love tomatoes, especially those sweet cherry and grape ones that give you a burst of flavor when you bite into them. Our featured recipe this month packs a lot of flavor into a fresh tasting, light pasta dish.

When I make this dish I substitute basil for some of the spinach and when I have garden tomatoes, sometimes I use large tomatoes. When I use large tomatoes I take the seeds out and cut the tomatoes into large chunks before I roast them. I think you could grill the tomatoes instead of roasting them, but I haven’t tried this yet. I usually serve a green salad, fruit and milk with this dish. Enjoy!

Roasted Tomato and Spinach Pasta

Serving Size: 1¼ cups | Servings: 4

Roasted Tomato and Spinach Pasta Label

 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (about 10 ounces) cherry tomatoes
  • ¼ cup oil (divided)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3 cups fresh spinach or a 10 ounce bag frozen spinach, thawed
  • 8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 5 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

 

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400°F.
  2. Rinse the tomatoes under running water. Cut in half. Spread on greased baking pan.
  3. Sprinkle olive oil (2 tablespoons), salt, pepper, and garlic powder on tomatoes. Stir to coat.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Prepare spinach and spaghetti as tomatoes bake.
  5. Rinse fresh spinach in water, slice in strips OR thaw, drain, and pat dry the frozen spinach. Set aside.
  6. Follow package directions to cook spaghetti. Drain.
  7. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil, Italian seasoning, spinach, and baked tomatoes to the spaghetti. Stir until heated through. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Peggy Signature

 

Corn on the cob: A sure sign of Summer

corn on the cobThere are many signs that summer is here including hot weather, full swimming pools, and sunlight until after 9 pm! Another sign is that sweet corn is starting to show up at the grocery stores, Farmers’ Markets, and street corners. We planted sweet corn on the farm I grew up on so seeing the sweet corn reminds me of my childhood. I’d spend a day or two in the kitchen with my mom, sister, and grandmas freezing sweet corn so we could enjoy eating it throughout the winter.

Currently, the price of a dozen ears of sweet corn at three different grocery stores in Central Iowa is $6/dozen. Local sweet corn is expected to be in the stores around July 15, later than normal because of the cold, wet spring in the Midwest. The local sweet corn will be a bit cheaper.

When selecting sweet corn, look for the following signs of quality:

  • Kernels that are plump. Do not choose ears with kernels that have begun to shrivel or ‘dent’.
  • Kernels that are ‘milky’ inside so that when pressed with the fingernail the juice pops out.
  • Depending on the variety, yellow corn should have a bright yellow color. White corn should be really white.
  • Husks which fit snugly around the ear, look fresh, and have good green color. Do not select ears with husks that are dried, yellowed, or straw-colored which are indications of age or damage.
  • Shiny dark brown silk is a sign of well-filled kernels. Silk ends should be free from decay or worm injury.

To get the best flavor from sweet corn, it should be eaten as soon as possible after harvesting because the sugars start converting to starches as soon as the corn is picked. If you need to store the sweet corn, leave the corn in the husk and refrigerate as soon as possible. If the corn has been husked, place it in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. Corn that has been blanched and cut off the cob can be frozen for 6 months to a year.

Here are some tips for cooking with fresh sweet corn:

corn on the cob cut

  • Don’t add salt to the water when cooking sweet corn because it will toughen the corn.
  • Good, fresh sweet corn does not need to be cooked for long. Try cooking it for just 3 minutes, and see how delicious it can be.
  • Two to three medium ears of corn are equivalent to approximately 1 pound, depending on ear size. Two medium ears equal approximately 1 to 1 ½ cups of kernels.

For more tips and directions for microwaving, grilling, or boiling sweet corn, check out the Sunshine Sweet website.

Jodi Signature

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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Tips for Low Stress, Low Cost Entertaining

caufliflower saladThis weekend is Memorial Day. Are you entertaining friends or family? If so, a little advance planning will save dollars and make your weekend less stressful.

Here are some tips:

  • Grocery stores will feature picnic foods this week. If your family grills or picnics frequently, you may be able to stock up and save.
  • If you are barbequing, consider having everyone bring their own main dish and a side dish to share. Assign appetizers, fruit sides, vegetable sides, and desserts. Then you can supply the beverages, grill, tableware, etc.
  • If you aren’t grilling, consider using the more inexpensive beef or pork roasts to make a batch of shredded meat to put on buns or serve with rice. Another idea would be Any Day Chicken Salad.
  • If you are making the sides for the party, don’t go overboard with choices. The greater the variety, the greater the expense, more time spent in preparing, and usually more leftovers. I plan one starchy side like potato salad/baked beans/macaroni salad, a fruit or vegetable salad/tray, plus a simple dessert like bars or cookies. If you are having shredded meat as I mentioned before, think about a big bowl of rice (very cheap and super easy to make, especially if you cook it in the oven or a rice steamer). Here are some ideas from our recipe collection. These are all very simple to make so your kids can help you (kids tend to enjoy eating food they help make).

Creamy Cauliflower Saladfruit kabobs and yogurt

Pasta Salad

Fruit Salad

Fruit Kabobs with Yogurt Dip

Crunchy Cabbage Salad

Waldorf Summer Salad

As for the beverages make ice tea, lemonade or a drink mix and have water and lemon slices on hand.

Keep it simple and enjoy your guests.

Peggy Signature

Frozen Fruit Cups

Frozen Fruit cupsOne of these days the weather is going to turn warm and sunny and we are all going to be busting out of the house to enjoy gardening, walking, biking, soccer, picnics, and much more. When that time comes, I won’t want to spend time in the kitchen. I’m prepared with plans for some 15 minute meals plus meals in the freezer I can just thaw and serve.

A fruit salad, like our Frozen Fruit Cups, is great this time of year because berries are in season. I usually double or triple the Frozen Fruit Cup recipe, serve it for a meal, and freeze what is left in muffin cups. It tastes very fresh plus it’s low in calories.

The only thing tricky about this recipe is remembering when to get it out of the freezer. You want it to be slightly frozen when you serve it.

Frozen Fruit Cups

Serving Size:  ½ cup | Servings:  6

 

IngredientsFoodProSQL PDF File

2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced

1 medium to large banana, sliced (about 6 ounces)

2 kiwi, sliced

2 teaspoons sugar

 

Directions

1. Mix strawberries with sugar in a bowl. Let sit 20-30 minutes while strawberries make juice.

2. Peel and slice banana and kiwi, add to strawberries.

3. Scoop ½ cup of the mixture into each of six muffin cups lined with paper.

4. Freeze. Remove from freezer about 20-30 minutes before serving.

 

Tips:

• 2 cups sliced frozen strawberries can be used and may be less expensive in the winter.
• Freeze ahead. Store fruit cups in a plastic freezer container.  They will keep several weeks in the freezer.
• Use other fruits your family enjoys such as mango or melon.
• Fruit cups can be made in small cups, custard cups, or small bowls.

Peggy Signature

Pass the Word: Free Lunches for Kids

Free and reduced price lunches at school are very important for the growing number of low-income kids. But what do the 150,000 Iowa kids who get free and reduced price lunches do in the summer when school is out? The fortunate kids (about 9,000 in Iowa last year) get lunch through summer feeding sites.

The Summer Food Service Program, administered by the Iowa Department of Education, provides nutritious meals and snacks to children in low-income areas during the summer months. There are many summer food service program feeding sites across the state of Iowa; however, the program is still vastly under-utilized. The biggest barrier to children participating in the Summer Food Service Program is knowledge that feedings sites exist. This summer there are 16 new sponsors and 40 new sites in the summer food service program across the state.

The Iowa Dept. of Education has an interactive map that shows all the sites where any child under 18 can go for a free meal. You do not have to sign anything or show identification. You do not have to live near-by or even in the same county. The map gives contact information so you can find out serving times and dates.

Please help spread the word if there is a site in your community. If there isn’t a site near you, consider working in your community to start a program for next summer (contact Stephanie Dross at the Department of Education).

Grilling Made Easy and Safe

May is National Barbecue Month LogoAccording to a recent poll most of us think that cooking outdoors is easy, costs less, is more economical than dining out and encourages time outdoors.

My three favorite reasons to grill are: 1) it tastes good, 2) I don’t have to heat up the kitchen, and 3) cleanup is easier.  When done right, grilling meat and poultry is a healthy option because the excess fat drips away. Just avoid flame-ups and remove charred areas from meat before eating to avoid the development of potential carcinogens (cancer causing substances).

Hot dogs and hamburger are frequently on sale. Take advantage of special bulk prices on ground beef and make your own patties.  Lay your patties on a wax paper lined cookie sheet so they don’t stick together, freeze completely, and then transfer them to a freezer container for storage.  This way you can take out as many as you need for one grilling session.

Hot dogs and smoked bratwurst are easy to prepare because they are already fully cooked.  Just keep them cold until you are ready to grill and then make sure they are thoroughly reheated and steaming hot.  Fresh sausages, like fresh Italian and fresh bratwurst, need to be cooked slowly and evenly over mature coals until the sausage is gray throughout and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the sausage reads 160°F for meat sausage and 165°F for poultry sausage. Fresh sausage may be parboiled in water for 15 minutes and then grilled.  However, grilling should immediately follow parboiling; interrupted cooking is not recommended.

Hamburger on grill with meat therometer showing temperatureHamburgers are more difficult.  The trick is to get them to medium (160°F) doneness, until no longer pink in the center and juices show no pink color, without getting them charred on the outside.  It is not safe to eat rare hamburger because the process of grinding distributes any E. coli or other bacteria throughout the meat.  And now experts say the color of meat is no longer considered a reliable indicator of ground beef safety.  A meat thermometer is the most reliable way to reduce risk of food-borne illness. Cook burger to 160 degrees and put them on a clean plate or platter.

Here’s more information on grilling:

Becoming the Grill Master

 

-pointers by Peggy

Drink Water – It’s Free and It Doesn’t Make You Fat

During the summer many of us grab drinks to take on walks, hikes, bike rides, picnics, cookouts, etc.  Many times those drinks are loaded with sugar and calories.  In fact, the new 2010 Dietary Guidelines indicate that added sugars contribute an average of 16% of the total calories in American diets.  And 36% of those calories come from soda, energy drinks and sports drinks (see the chart below).  That’s more than candy, ice cream, cakes, and cookies combined.

Strong evidence shows children and adolescents who consume more sugar-sweetened beverages have a higher body weight compared to those who drink less of these beverages.  Moderate evidence also supports this relationship in adults.

Sugar-sweetened beverages provide excess calories and few essential nutrients to the diet.  Reduce the intake of sugary drinks by:

  • Drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Consuming smaller portions
  • Substituting water and other beverages with few or no calories for sugar-sweetened beverages

If you want to get an idea of how many teaspoons of sugar and calories there are in various beverages, play Interactive Beverage Guide to Sugars.   Show the website to your children and encourage them to decrease the sugar they get through sweetened beverages.

Sources of added sugars in the diets of the US Population ages 2 years and older

Sources of added sugars in the diets of the US Population ages 2 years and older

If you would like a closer look at this chart go to: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/dietaryguidelines2010.pdf and then to page 29 where you will find FIGURE 3-6 Sources of Added Sugars in the Diets of the US Population Ages 2 years and Older.

pointers from Peggy

My Top 10 Reasons to Garden

Little girl standing in a vegetable garden with spade in her hand, second little girl by a scooter with rake and shovelIt’s SPRING. Warm weather makes me start planning for my flower and vegetable garden.  Why?

  1. Health — Growing your own makes it easier to get the fruits and vegetables needed for good health. Kids involved in growing or preparing fruits and vegetables are more likely to eat them.
  2. Exercise — Gardening provides both cardio and aerobic exercise. Studies show that an hour of moderate gardening can burn up to 300 calories for women, almost 400 calories for men. Mowing the grass equals a vigorous walk, bending and stretching while planting compares to an exercise class, and hauling plants and soil is like weightlifting.
  3. Taste – Nothing matches the taste of green beans, tomatoes, basil, zucchini, or peppers picked fresh from the garden.
  4. Satisfaction — A weed less, mulched garden gives me a sense of accomplishment.
  5. Learning — The more I learn about plants and gardening, the more I want to know. Problems with insects or spots on leaves make me want to find the cause and learn how to keep plants healthy.
  6. Family time — Time spent planting, weeding, and harvesting with family is filled with talk and laughter.
  7. Friendship — Gardening expands your social circle. Whether it’s someone who lives down the street or halfway around the world on the Internet, gardeners love to talk about plants. Surplus tomatoes, a bouquet, or an extra plant are gifts to share with friends and neighbors.
  8. Creativity — Gardening provides an outlet for the artist in all of us, whether it’s planting a bed of perennials or arranging flowers in a vase.
  9. Beauty and love of nature — I love the colors, shapes, textures and smells of flowers.  Having flowers in my home gives me joy.
  10.   Links to the farm — Gardening takes time, effort and knowledge.  After lots of work, plants can be destroyed by hail, disease, or animals. I have a great deal of respect for those who farm for a living.

Notice anything missing in my top ten reasons to garden?  Saving money.  That’s because gardens don’t always save money. The article, “Can a Vegetable Garden Save You Money”?  by Cindy Haynes, Extension Horticulturist, gives tips to help you save money on your garden.  It’s from 2009, but the message still applies.

-pointers from Peggy

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