Spring Produce

Each spring I love watching the plants pop up out of the ground.  Some days I feel like I can see the plants growing in my yard.  Now that we are in April, more and more fresh spring produce is popping up in the stores and in gardens.

Buying fruits and vegetables that are in season gets you the tastiest produce for the least cost.  Here are some fruits and vegetables that are in season in the spring:

  • Asparagus – snap off the woody ends and grill, steam, or roast.
  • Broccoli – cut into florets and eat raw, steam, or roast.
  • Rhubarb – eat only the reddish stalk; find out more on the AnswerLine Blog.
  • Snow peas – eat raw or add to stir-fry.
  • Spinach – eat in a salad, top off a sandwich, or add to a smoothie.
  • Strawberries – eat on their own or as a topping to your favorite dessert.

I hope you get to enjoy some fresh spring produce this week!

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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How to Prepare Broccoli

Recently my son brought home a card from school to keep track of the fruits and veggies he eats. Our local hospital does a program at the elementary schools to encourage the kids to be active and eat fruits and vegetables. If the kids eat 50 fruits and vegetables by a certain date, they get a special token.

As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, my son does not eat many vegetables. Some raw carrots, some roasted sweet potatoes, and maybe some spinach leaves with a bit of ranch. However, maybe he’ll branch out a bit to get that special token!

One vegetable that I’m going to use in our meals the next few weeks is broccoli. It’s in season during the Spring so is a good time to buy it. I’m thinking I will serve it raw with hummus or a bit of ranch dressing. I may also serve it cooked as part of our Cheesy Pasta with Summer Veggies. Hopefully Parker will give it a try one of these ways and we can mark it on his chart!

You can save money by buying broccoli in whole heads rather than pre-cut pieces. If you’re not sure how to cut broccoli, watch our new video How to Prepare Broccoli.

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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Stuffing with Vegetables

stuffing-with-vegetables-webThanksgiving is coming up soon and we want our November recipe of the month to make your Thanksgiving menu. Traditional Thanksgiving stuffing can be high in calories and sodium and low on vitamins and minerals. Our Stuffing with Vegetables flips that around for a side dish that is lower in calories and sodium and filled with vegetables that provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

A bag of frozen vegetables is combined with margarine, a low sodium stuffing mix, low-sodium chicken broth, and garlic powder. Microwave the mixture for 10 minutes and you have a perfect Thanksgiving side dish. Adding vegetables to the stuffing mix adds more than just nutrients. The vegetables also add flavor and bright colors that will complement the other foods on your Thanksgiving plate.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Produce Basics

Produce Basics - PeppersHave you ever wondered how to peel a kiwi or how to prepare a fresh beet? Are you not sure how to store or prepare fresh produce from the farmers market or grocery store? We’re with you! It can be tricky to manage fresh fruits and vegetables that you’re not used to eating at home.

The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team has put together a collection of Produce Basics handouts that describe how to wash, store and prepare common fruits and vegetables.

Whether you’re looking to clean your kale and collard greens or bake some sweet potato fries, Produce Basics can be your guide. Check out the collection today!

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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On the Counter or in the Fridge?

grocery-bag-and-producewpMy kids and I have been faithfully watering our tomato plant (we’re not getting much rain where we live!) and watching it grow this summer. We’re growing the plant in a large container and it’s the only produce we are growing this year, so we’re giving it extra good care. There are 3 green tomatoes on it so far, but lots of flowers so I think we could get quite a few tomatoes!

If you’re growing your own produce or shopping at a farmers market, it’s just about time for all that wonderful produce to be ready. It’s great to eat when it is so fresh, but when you aren’t able to eat it fast enough, it’s good to know how to properly store the produce so it lasts longer.

Here’s a quick look at how to store some types of produce:

Refrigerate:

Apples, berries, asparagus, green beans, broccoli, carrots, leafy greens, and anything that is cut up

Keep at Room Temperature:

Melons, tomatoes, squashes (store on the counter but away from direct sunlight)

Onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes (best if kept in a dark area such as a pantry)

Ripen on Counter then Refrigerate:

Nectarines, peaches, pears, plums

For more information on storing fruits and vegetables, watch our video on How to Store Fruits and Vegetables.

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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A Healthier Me in 2016: A Dietitian’s Goal

Are you curious what New Year’s goal a dietitian might set? Well, it may surprise you but my goal is to increase my vegetable intake by eating more vegetables for snacks. I eat vegetables daily, but mostly at lunch and supper. However, I don’t always get in the 2 ½ cups I need each day. The snacks I bring to work most often are fruit or whole grain crackers. These are perfectly healthy snacks that I will continue to eat but I will also swap out one a few times each week for vegetables. My SMART goal for 2016 is, ‘I will eat 1 cup of vegetables as a snack 3 times per week’. If you would like a reminder of what a SMART goal is, visit last week’s blog.

Here is a list of some of the vegetables I plan to eat as snacks:

  • Baby carrots with hummus dip (try our After School Hummus)
  • Celery with peanut butter
  • Broccoli and cauliflower with a bit of Ranch dressing
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Leftover roasted vegetables (Easy Roasted Veggies)

Some people might be surprised that I plan to eat Ranch dressing with my vegetables. However, I’m much more likely to eat them if I have a dip to go with them. And a couple of tablespoons of dip is not going to add so much fat or sodium that it outweighs the benefit of eating the vegetables.

To help me reach my goal, I plan to use our Veggie Tasting Party recipe and prep my vegetables at the start of each week so they are ready to go when I need them.

Now to eat my baby carrots and hummus dip……

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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Broccoli Salad

broccoli-saladThis time of year I know that I need to eat fewer treats and a lot more vegetables. I have a sweet tooth plus pregnancy cravings for chocolate, so it takes a lot of willpower for me to avoid the dessert table at holiday meals and parties. I can easily fill up on sweets so that I am not hungry for the nutritious foods that my baby and I need. One solution to my problem is our recipe of the month for December, Broccoli Salad.

This Broccoli Salad recipe satisfies my sweet tooth with the combination of a lightly sweet dressing and dried fruit. On top of that, it gets me the nutrition packed broccoli that I need. I get the sweetness I want and the vegetables I need in one simple recipe!

Here are some other great things about this recipe that cannot be ignored:

  • It stores well in an airtight container the refrigerator. For some, it may even taste better after a day or two because the flavors have a chance to mingle.
  • It is a quick and easy dish to take along to holiday meals or parties.
  • It can easily be packed in small containers to put in lunch bags for a side dish.
  • It is inexpensive and it will cost even less this spring when broccoli is in season.

Try out our Broccoli Salad to add vegetables to your meals this holiday season.

Broccoli Salad

Serving Size: 1 cupbroccoli-salad-label
Serves: 7
Cost Per Serving: $0.56
Ingredients: 
  • 1 bunch broccoli
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1/3 cup light mayonnaise or salad dressing
  • 3 tablespoons cider or white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup red onion, diced (1/2 medium onion)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
Instructions: 
  1. Cut 1/2″ off bottom of the broccoli stem and discard. Peel the outer layer of the stem. Chop the tender inner portion of the broccoli and florets.
  2. Mix sugar, salt, mustard, and mayonnaise together in a large bowl. Add vinegar and stir with a wire whisk or fork.
  3. Add the broccoli, red onion, and raisins.
  4. Stir until mixture is coated with dressing. Serve salad immediately or store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. Store salad for up to 4 days.
Tips: 
  • Choose broccoli with green (not yellow) stems and florets.
  • A bunch of broccoli usually has 2 to 3 stalks and weighs about 1 1/2 pounds. It should make 6 to 7 cups of chopped stems and florets.
  • You may use sweet white or yellow onions instead of red.
  • Wash broccoli and onion under running water.
Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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How to Cut Cauliflower

cauliflower whole slicedCauliflower is a loved vegetable in my home, especially by my daughter and I. We could eat it every day! There are many benefits to choosing cauliflower at the grocery store:

  • It yields a lot: one head of cauliflower cut up can yield six cups, or more, of florets. It is an easy way to get my family the vegetables they need.
  • It is nutritious: cauliflower is rich in vitamin C. This time of year we do not have access to a lot of citrus fruits, which we typically think of as the best way to get vitamin C. So, we can get our vitamin C from cauliflower.
  • It can be eaten several different ways: raw, steamed, or roasted. Raw cauliflower is great to dip in hummus, vegetable dip, or salad dressing. Roasting cauliflower brings out its sweetness – watch this video for an easy way to roast vegetables.

The one thing I do not like about cauliflower is cutting it up. It is hard to cut up and it leaves a big mess. Here is the method I have started using to cut up my cauliflower in an effort to have bite-sized pieces without the big mess:

  1. Wash the cauliflower under running water using a scrub brush to remove any visible dirt. Pat dry with paper towels or a clean dish towel.
  2. Place cauliflower on a large cutting board. Pull off or cut off the leaves. Use a sharp knife to cut around the center stem.
  3. Break off the larger florets, then break off as many bite sized florets as possible.
  4. For the remaining florets, cut into bite sized pieces. This is where it gets messy, so I try to contain the mess by working with small pieces and putting them directly into a container.
  5. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

I hope you enjoy the next cauliflower you get from the store.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Vegetable Pasta Soup

vegetable-pasta-soupI always look forward to fall, it is my favorite season. I enjoy watching the harvest come in and I like that the weather cools down. I also enjoy putting my soup recipes back into my menu rotation. Our recipe of the month for September is Vegetable Pasta Soup.

Here are the reasons I love to include soup in the menu rotation for the cooler months:

  • It is loaded with vegetables. Many people do not eat enough vegetables, and eating a bowl of soup is an easy way to get the vegetables we need.
  • It freezes well. I value recipes that freeze well because they make future meal prep so much easier. I freeze individual servings for lunches and I freeze larger batches for a quick evening or weekend meal.
  • It is versatile. I do not need to make this recipe the same way twice, so no one gets bored with the same old thing. The vegetables and seasonings can be changed and adjusted based on what I have on hand and what is on sale at the grocery store. And, if I want to add protein to this soup, I simply need to add in a can of beans or some leftover chopped meat. A note of caution if you do change things up with this recipe, watch it closely because you may need to add water.

Try our Vegetable Pasta Soup – it may just make its way in to your menu plans for the cool fall and cold winter ahead.

Enjoy!
Justine

Vegetable Pasta Soup

Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups | Serves: 8vegetable-pasta-soup-label

Ingredients: 
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 cups chopped or sliced vegetables (like onions, carrots, and zucchini)
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning or dried basil
  • 2 cups small whole wheat pasta (shell or macaroni)
  • 6 cups fresh spinach leaves (about 1/2 pound), thoroughly washed (or kale, collard greens, or 10 ounces of frozen spinach)
Instructions: 
  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add onions and carrots. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened. This should take about 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in zucchini and canned tomatoes. Cook 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Stir in the broth, water, salt, and Italian seasoning or dried basil. Bring to a boil.
  4. Stir in the pasta and spinach. Return to a boil.
  5. Cook until the pasta is tender, using the time on the package for a guide.
Notes: Prewashed or ready to eat spinach does not have to be washed. Use plain diced tomatoes for less spiciness.
Tips: 
  • Soup freezes well.
  • Use washed and diced garden tomatoes and homemade broth if they are available. Keep cut tomatoes cold until you need them.
  • Wash fresh vegetables under running water before preparing.
Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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