Cooking for Fewer During the Holidays

I love to cook, especially around the holidays! There is something nostalgic about bringing out the box of old recipe cards that are covered in stains and mark-ups from family members altering recipes throughout the years. Cooking holiday meals is a way that I show those around me that I love them, and this has been something that I have had to get more creative with during the past year.

Holidays looked a lot different for many of us in 2020 and this year is off to a similar start. Smaller, more intimate gatherings are still recommended, leading to a slightly different mindset when planning those traditional holiday meals. Check out my list of holiday cooking alterations below to cook for a smaller crowd this holiday season.

  1. Halve your recipes– Over the years I have found that the family favorite recipes that my grandma, mom and aunts used for holiday cooking were meant to feed a village! By cutting those recipes in half, I can spend more money on other ingredients for additional recipes and am not stuck with mountains of leftovers.
  2. Pick recipes that can be used for future meals– Cooking for smaller numbers of family this past year required me to get creative. I love the idea of having versatile ingredients and leftovers that can be used for other meals. Easy Roasted Veggies are a fan favorite at my house any time of the year and the leftover veggies can be used in other recipes like Vegetable Frittata and Vegetable Quesadillas. Ham is a traditional Easter food in my family which leads to a lot of leftovers. I love using leftover ham in soups and quiches. A few of our favorite recipes to use ham are Turkey Vegetable Quiche and Split Pea Soup.
  3. Share the cooking with others– A lot of our neighbors used to travel for the holidays but with the pandemic we have found that everyone is cooking for fewer people or cooking for the first time in several years! I love having meal swaps with my neighbors and the same can be said during the holidays. You may find a new family favorite this way!
  4. Find fun ways to eat your meal with those you love– Not only is cooking for a holiday different during a pandemic, but you are also limited to who you can have in your home to celebrate. Hop on Facetime or a Zoom call with loved ones and coordinate your mealtimes to eat with each other. It is a fun way to talk about the foods you have prepared, and you can still celebrate the holidays with those you love!

Find creative ways to celebrate with those around you to keep the holiday season fun and memorable. Cheers to good health in 2021!

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a new mom she is always on the lookout for easy, healthy recipes to prepare for her family.

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Vegetable Quesadillas

Would you like to know what my family’s favorite recipe is to make when we are short on time? It is our September recipe of the month, Vegetable Quesadillas. I can get this recipe on the table in 15 minutes or less, and I think you can too.

I keep this recipe in my back pocket for times when I feel rushed to get a meal on the table or when my children need to eat – NOW! I do not usually put this recipe on my meal plan for the week, but I do try to keep the first three ingredients (tortillas, cheese, and beans) on hand. For the vegetables, I use whatever I have in the refrigerator or freezer like chopped onion, chopped pepper, or frozen corn. You can cook the vegetables first or put them in raw.

If you have never made quesadillas before, this is the perfect recipe to learn how. You heat your skillet over medium heat and place the tortilla in the skillet. Put the cheese, beans, and vegetables on half of the tortilla. Then fold the empty half of the tortilla over, like closing a book. Cook the quesadilla for a couple of minutes, flip it, then cook a couple minutes more. You want the tortilla lightly browned and the cheese melty.

My children eat these plain, my husband and I top them with salsa. You can get creative and top these with avocado, tomato, sour cream, a squeeze of lime juice, or whatever sounds good to you.


Justine Hoover

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

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Fresh, canned or frozen veggies?

Vegetables steamedAs a dietitian I’m often asked which is better, fresh, canned, or frozen vegetables? My response is they all have benefits and can all fit into a healthy eating plan.

You want to buy fresh vegetables when they are in season. They cost less and are likely to be at their peak flavor. However, when not in season, frozen or canned versions are often a smarter buy. For example, buy fresh sweet corn in the summer but frozen or canned corn during other months.

Commercially frozen vegetables are frozen within hours of picking. Therefore, their flavor is retained and nutrient loss is reduced. Buy plain frozen vegetables instead of those with special sauces or seasonings, which can add calories, fat and sodium, as well as cost.

Canned vegetables tend to be the least expensive. And if you don’t end up using them, they won’t go bad quickly. When buying canned vegetables, buy those that have reduced or no sodium. Or drain and rinse regular canned vegetables to reduce the sodium.

When deciding whether to buy fresh, canned or frozen vegetables, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. Which kind of vegetable is most appropriate for your needs? If you are making a soup or stew, canned tomatoes might make more sense than fresh.
  2. How much waste is there? If you are buying fresh carrots or broccoli, consider that you’ll pay for the entire weight, but you’ll throw away the stems/peels. You’ll need to have a plan to eat fresh vegetables before they spoil while frozen and canned vegetables can be stored for longer periods of time.
  3. How much time will it save overall? Don’t just consider the cooking time but preparation and clean up as well. If your schedule for the week is busy, you might decide to use frozen or canned vegetables if they will save you time.

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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Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry

beef-and-veggie-stire-fryDo you ever crave take-out food? When I was in college I used to order take-out at least once a week – sandwiches, pizza, or Asian. It tasted so good and it was convenient. Unfortunately, now I live in a small town and my take out choices are almost non-existent. On top of that, I have a family of four, and take-out every week would take a lot of money out of our budget. So, when I am craving take-out, I try to re-create my favorites with fresh (and budget friendly) recipes at home. Our recipe for the month of May is Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry and it tastes better than take-out.

To make this recipe come together quickly, wash and chop the vegetables in advance when you have a little extra time. Broccoli, carrots, peppers, onion, and celery can all be washed, chopped, and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to five days until you are ready to use them. Also, the next time you make rice, double or triple the amount you need and freeze the extra in freezer bags. Then, when you need rice for another recipe all you need to do is re-heat.

If there are any leftovers, this recipe stores well in the refrigerator. I think it tastes even better re-heated for a quick lunch the next day.




Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry

Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups stir fry, 2/3 cup instant brown rice
Serves: 4
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 pound lean beef or pork, sliced thinly against the grain
  • 2 cups uncooked instant brown rice (or whole wheat noodles)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 7 cups chopped vegetables (like carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, bell peppers, and onions) or 24 ounces frozen stir fry vegetables, thawed
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  1. Mix ginger, garlic powder, soy sauce, and water. Pour ¼ cup of the mix into a sealable plastic bag and save the rest. Add meat to the bag. Seal the bag and set it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.
  2. Prepare brown rice according to directions on the package for 4 servings.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan. When oil is hot, add meat from plastic bag and stir until brown. This will take 1 to 3 minutes. Discard liquid from the bag.
  4. Remove meat from pan and cover it. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to pan.
  5. Add chopped hard vegetables when oil is hot. Stir and cook them for 3 minutes. Add chopped soft vegetables. Stir and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add cornstarch to the saved ginger mixture and stir until smooth.
  7. Return meat to the pan when vegetables are tender. Add cornstarch mixture and cook for about 2 minutes until bubbly.
  8. Serve over brown rice.
  • Wash hands and fresh produce under running water. Trim, peel, and core vegetables using a clean knife and clean cutting board. Then chop or slice the produce.
  • Add a few drops of hot sauce to the ginger mixture if you like a spicy flavor.
  • The meat is easier to cut into strips if you freeze it for 20 minutes.

Justine Hoover

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

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It’s Too Hot To Cook!

Who wants to cook when it is this hot?  Not me. But, I still want to eat! Here are some ideas for quick, easy, inexpensive meals with links to my favorite SpendSmart.EatSmart. recipes.

Make Fruit A Meal

Vegetable Ideas

  • Summer Bounty Salad
  • Pasta Salad
  • Grill vegetables like onions, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, mushrooms and potatoes. Here’s how …
    • Just slice them 1/4 – 1/2-inch thick and marinate in whatever Italian salad dressing or vinaigrette you have on hand. (If you use potatoes you need to microwave them for a few minutes before you put them on the grill.)
    • Preheat the grill, then either use a grill basket or lay right on the oiled grate.
    • Grill over medium heat for 5-20 minutes depending on the vegetable. Sometimes I make skewers with chunks of beef or chicken, but I can make a meal of just vegetables.

Top Of The Stove Dishes – These dishes don’t take long to make, and when I am cooking, I make extra so I can just reheat them in the microwave.

No Cook Or Skillet Sandwiches

Dips To Eat With Baked Tortilla Chips

Salads  that are big enough for a meal

Finally, don’t forget your slow-cooker. You can plug it in anywhere and cook a roast or chicken and vegetables while you are at work.
jicama black bean diptuna melt sandwichsummer bounty salad

— pointers from Peggy

Tomatoes…Yum! Doesn’t matter if they are a fruit or a vegetable

Remember that old argument…is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?  Here’s the answer.  BOTH.  Botanically speaking, the tomato is a fruit.  A “fruit” is any fleshy material covering a seed or seeds.  Horticulturally speaking, the tomato is a vegetable plant.  The plant is an annual and non-woody.  (Source: Produce Marketing Association and the Produce for Better Health Foundation.)

Whatever, our garden and my patio plants are loaded with tomatoes that are almost ripe.  I have my fingers crossed that we don’t get hail, insects or disease in the next few weeks.  If not, there should be some extras to make salsa, or preserve for future meals. 

If you have access to extra tomatoes or other fruits and vegetables, Extension has an excellent source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation and processing information.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides information about canning, freezing, drying, curing, pickling, making jams and jellies, as well as storing foods.

If you have questions,  you may call Families Extension Answer Line (800-262-3804).  Hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m.

– pointers from Peggy

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