Meal Planning at My House – Christine

Our theme for blogs this month is meal planning. Each of our primary bloggers will share how they approach meal planning at their own home. We hope that you will be able to take some ideas from each of us to make meal planning go a bit easier for you.

Meal planning is important to me because I want to make meal prep easy and I like to avoid food waste as much as I can. Most of the time I plan meals for just one person, so my strategies look different from someone who is planning for a whole family. Justine and Jody will have tips for families throughout the month.

Here are some of my favorite go-to strategies.

  1. I start with what I have. I begin my meal plan for each week with what I already have to reduce food waste. I often cook up a stir-fry or soup on Sunday with any vegetables from the previous week to get them used up before they spoil. One recipe that is great for this is our Easy Roasted Veggies.
  2. I do not cook for one. I generally cook a full batch of whatever I am making and I freeze leftovers in small containers. This way, I cook once and I know there are lots of yummy things in my freezer. The containers in the freezer make super-fast lunches and dinners.
  3. I pre-prep ingredients. When I get home from work at night I am usually very hungry and not in the mood to start cooking from scratch. I try to do myself a favor and be ready for this situation by having pre-prepped ingredients in my fridge or freezer. Here are some of my standbys:
    • Chopped onions in an airtight container in the freezer. These are great for cooking. If you will use the onion within a few days, you can store it in the refrigerator. I will often chop up 4 or 5 onions and keep them in the freezer to use for many meals. This works with peppers as well!
    • Cooked proteins. This time of year, I grill outside a lot. If I light my grill, I fill it. This means that I often have many frozen protein foods like grilled chicken and hamburgers. I can heat these up very quickly to get a meal started and cut my cooking time way down.
    • Cut fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator. I know that I am much more likely to reach for fruits and vegetables for snacks when they are cut and ready to go. I tend to purchase fruits and vegetables that can be cleaned and/or prepped ahead, such as:
      • Carrots
      • Celery
      • Pea pods
      • Peppers
      • Watermelon
      • Grapes

I hope one of these ideas is helpful to you and stay tune all month for Justine and Jody’s meal planning routines!

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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What I have learned being part of the SSES Team

I joined the Spend Smart Eat Smart Team as a junior here at Iowa State University, a little over a year after I no longer had an on-campus meal plan so I was buying my own groceries and preparing my own meals. I liked to cook but struggled when it came to knowing how to budget my spending on groceries as well as how to reduce food waste in my kitchen.

I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work, grow and learn both professionally and personally through this job experience. Because this is my final blog post as a part of the Spend Smart Eat Smart Team I thought it would be appropriate to share with you a few lessons I’ve learned through working on this team as well as my favorite Spend Smart recipes.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned through working with the Spend Smart Eat Smart team is how to use my freezer in a way that saves me time, money, and stress.
1. Buy frequently used items in bulk when they are on sale to save money.

frequent frozen items

Rather than buying frequently used frozen items at full price when I need them or occasionally getting lucky with a sale, I watch for the sale and then purchase multiple packages. This saves me money in both the price of the actual item as well as a trip to the grocery store because I already have it on hand.  See the table below for recommended freezer storage time.

freezer storage chart

“Freezing and Food Safety.” Food Safety and Inspection Service. USDA, 15 June 2013. Web. 30 July 2014.

2. Freeze leftovers or make a meal specifically for freezing with a future hectic day in mind.

As a college student I had a few hectic days (the group project meeting that was suppose to take an hour and ended up taking 3….) that left me staring into my refrigerator at 8 pm – starving, grumpy, tired and wondering what to eat. While it is hard to control things not going as planned, it is not hard to plan dinner for those days! I learned to simply freeze a portion or two of leftovers or I would anticipate a stressful week and prepare and freeze an entire meal. Nothing was better than coming home exhausted from a long day and knowing I was a few minutes away from having a delicious home cooked meal.

Soups, Enchiladas, and Ham and Brown Rice are my go-to freezer meals.

Finally, I thought I would highlight my top 7 all-time favorite Spend Smart recipes (my top 10 would spill the beans about upcoming recipes so stay tuned!!). If you are looking for a budget friendly, delicious, quick meal definitely check these out.

1. Quick Pad Thai
2. Pan Fried Tilapia with Orange Sauce
3. Whole Grain Cereal treat
4. No Knead Whole Wheat Bread
5. MmmmmGood Fruit Pizza
6. Ham and Brown Rice
7. Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes

I’m excited to take the lessons I have learned and recipes with me to Peoria, IL as I begin my dietetic internship. I look forward to keeping in touch with Spend Smart Eat Smart via the Facebook page.

-Liz

2014 ISU Dietetics Graduate

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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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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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

4 tips for healthy eating on a budget

  1. Eat breakfast. This is the most important meal of the day and the most common one to skip. It’s also typically the fastest and the cheapest to make. Think oatmeal, toast, eggs, pancakes, fruit, low-fat milk.  Just eating breakfast helps charge your brain and body.
  2. Buy staples. Beans, pasta, and oats are really inexpensive and filling. Canned fish or frozen vegetables don’t go bad before you can use them. Eggs are a very inexpensive protein as are beans and peanut butter.
  3. Plan ahead. When you are hungry and rushed, it is hard to think of budget foods. Make a slow-cooker recipe that will last several meals. Divide the food into several containers to make it easier to reheat. Or, keep the ingredients for an inexpensive meal on a shelf so you don’t have to think what to make when you are tired. A nutritious meal includes something from each food group: grain, meat, fruit, vegetable, and milk.
  4. Watch what you drink. Coffee, soda, energy drinks, and alcohol can be dehydrating and costly. Water and milk are healthy and inexpensive. Refillable water bottles pay for themselves within days.

-pointers from Peggy

Top 3 Tips to Spend Less Time in the Grocery Store

My objective when going to the grocery store is to spend the least amount of time possible in the store, yet get everything I need, eliminating the need for a special trip later. (Research shows that the more time you spend in the grocery store, the more money you spend.) I usually end up going every week to 10 days, depending on how many meals I am cooking at home. My tips are below:      

  1. Go when it is not crowded. It takes less time and the shelves are usually well stocked. Five o’clock at the end of the week is the worst time. Saturdays are also bad. Early morning and late at night are usually good times. My sister goes after line dancing which gets over at 7:30 p.m. The other sister sends her husband with a list at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.
  2. Shop at the same stores. This way you don’t spend time searching. I regularly shop at two different chain stores. One store is less expensive, but doesn’t have everything I buy. I shop there when my other store doesn’t have many items I want on sale.
  3. Make your list according to the layout of the store. That way you just go down the list in order and don’t have to crisscross the store (taking more time, more chance to forget something, and more temptation  to buy things you don’t need). I make my list on an envelope and stick any coupons I want to use inside. I write both the item and the price on the list.  If it is on sale, I write S. If I have a coupon, I write C. Sometimes I don’t buy the brand on sale or use the coupon because I check the other brands and compare prices on the spot, looking at my list with the price.
    coupons

If you have tips that work for you, I would love to hear about them. Just hit the comment section and send a note.

-pointers by Peggy

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