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Recently, I had to be off my feet for a few weeks following a surgery. In order to ease the burden on my family, I put about 15 meals in the freezer that I prepared ahead of time … in less than 2 hours. I looked up “freezer meals” and found a wealth of helpful ideas. Most of the freezer meals included assembling ingredients for recipes that will go from freezer to refrigerator (to thaw) and into my slow cooker. The meals proved to be so easy and helpful that I plan to continue this method regularly throughout the year to have several meals in the freezer all the time.

Freezer meals can be helpful for a busy schedule any time you need a meal that’s ready-to-go or when you take a meal to someone else in need. Freezer meals can save you time by prepping all the ingredients ahead of time, and then only taking minutes to put in the oven or slow cooker after they are thawed. Freezer meals can also save you money because you can purchase ingredients when they are on sale to enjoy them later.

Here are a few steps to get you started…

  1. Plan

There are several approaches to freezer meals, including making a double batch of a recipe and freezing one batch, pre-cooking part of the recipe (like browning ground beef), or assembling ingredients to freeze and later cook in the oven or slow cooker. Be sure to consider nutrition. Use MyPlate as a guide for your menus, plan a variety of low-fat proteins and dairy along with plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Consider avoiding ingredients that don’t freeze well, such as mayonnaise and lettuce. There are entire websites and cookbooks dedicated to freezer meals. This Extension fact sheet on Freezer Meal Planning includes recipe ideas and a grocery list.

Picture of slow cooker recipe ingredients, ready to freeze.

  1. Assemble

Gather all the ingredients and containers for freezing ahead of time. Freezer bags or cartons work well. Label the bag or container with a permanent marker before filling. Label with the name of the recipe, date, and instructions for cooking. You can do several recipes at once or one at a time.

  1. Freeze

Lay freezer bags flat to freeze so they are easier to thaw. Consider freezing on a pan or baking sheet until frozen then stacking in freezer, or standing bags up to freeze vertically. Foods kept at zero degrees are safe indefinitely although quality might deteriorate after 3-6 months. This resource has more tips on freezing foods.

  1. Thaw

The safest and easiest way to thaw frozen foods is in the refrigerator, although it takes a little planning ahead. A gallon-sized bag of food will usually thaw in the refrigerator in about 24 hours. You can also defrost frozen foods in the microwave and then cook immediately.

  1. Cook

If using the slow cooker, be sure foods are thawed before cooking. For more information on slow cooking, check out these resources from Ohio State University Extension: College of Food, Agriculture and Environment Sciences Blog and Live Healthy Live Well.

 

Written by: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County.

Reviewed by:  Joanna Fifner, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Medina County.

 

Sources:

Barlage, L. “Slow Cooker Season!” Ohio State University Extension, Live Healthy Live Well. 10/30/2015. Live Healthy Live Well.

Brinkman, P. “Safely Using Your Slow Cooker.” Ohio State University Extension. Retrieved on 9/5/18. https://cfaes.osu.edu/slow-cooker-safety

Christensen, D. “Freezer Meal Planning.” Utah State University. May 2009. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1303&context=extension_curall

Henneman, A. & Jensen, J. “Freezing Cooked Food for Future Meals: Freezer Bag Tips.” University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County and Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. Retrieved on 9/6/2018. https://food.unl.edu/freezing-cooked-food-future-meals-freezer-bag-tips

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Have you ever stopped and wondered, how many calories are in your $1.80 guacamole from that popular Mexican style grill? Or in the mountains of ketchup that you have with your burger and fries?

At the height of grilling season, we thought that you might want to know the dietary details in your dips. By utilizing nutrition labels, and popularity, we selected ten separate dipping sauces and examined the caloric intake in one tablespoon. We chose some condiments like name brand mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise because of popularity, while others were for caloric content. After selecting all the sauces and dips, it was time to get down to the nitty gritty and crack the code on these tasty condiments that we all love to dip in to!

When looking at popular burger menus, many take a large dip into your daily intake of sodium and calories. The Thousand Island Dressing included on some sandwiches increases the calories of the melt sandwich to almost 1,000.

condimentsUtilizing nutrition value labels, we compiled two graphs showing calories and sodium. The  graph shows four sauces contained over 45 calories per tablespoon. Thousand Island dressing was the highest with 130, while mayonnaise had 90, Ranch contained 70, and cheese dip or queso had 46. Each dip really packed a caloric punch for your average eater. The impact of these choices could, over time, result in weight gain. The American Heart Association recommends a 2,000-calorie diet, so with the additions of these dips, those 2,000 calories do not go as far. The healthier caloric dips were hummus, BBQ, guacamole, ketchup, salsa, and mustard.

Second, we tracked the sodium in a tablespoon of dip. The graph shows the rising level of sodium in the various dips and sauces examined. Each dip contained sodium, but some packed a larger punch. The worst offender was Thousand Island dressing. It containedInfograph Dip! (1) 290 mg of sodium per tablespoon, which is one fifth of your daily allowance based off The American Heart Association’s 1,500 milligrams or less recommendation. Some other hard hitters were cheese dip, mustard, ketchup, BBQ and ranch, which all had over 100 mg of sodium per tablespoon. Many people assume that fat-free means healthy, however, it can mean higher sodium to increase taste rather than improve health. So, if you are watching sodium consider a very low sodium or sodium free option!

The last component of the dip analysis was fat! The fat in many dips is low or minimal, but four dips made their mark, including the Thousand Island dressing. With nearly 11 grams of fat per tablespoon, the Thousand Island dressing topped the list in fat, as well as sodium and calories! Thousand Island dressing is the least healthy dipping sauce you could select. Salsa, hummus, and guacamole are all low in fat, calories, and sodium making them the best choices. With any dip, from ranch to guacamole, the key is portion control. A tablespoon of dip is not what we are accustomed to, so measure before you serve! Consider squirting out your regular personal serving of ketchup and then measuring it into teaspoons or tablespoons. How much do you use? When thinking about whether to dip or not to dip, consider all components of health – be it sodium, fat, or calories, and then dip in with moderation.

 

Writer: Ryan Kline, Student Intern, Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ross County, kline.375@osu.edu.

Editor: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, barlage.7@osu.edu.

Reviewer: Misty Harmon, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, harmon.416@osu.edu.

Sources:

American Heart Association: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/The-American-Heart-Associations-Diet-and-Lifestyle-Recommendations_UCM_305855_Article.jsp#.WyPS-1VKh9M

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Sodium-and-Salt_UCM_303290_Article.jsp#.WyPTblVKh9M

National Public Radio: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/03/28/295332576/why-we-got-fatter-during-the-fat-free-food-boom

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In order to make meal prepping as efficient as possible, it’s a good idea to have your pantry and freezer already stocked. This will help make your grocery trips each week quicker and cheaper. You will only need to shop for fresh ingredients each week, because you will already have your shelf-stable ingredients stocked up at home. Check out this list of basic pantry and freezer foods to have on hand!

Overnight oats are popular to meal prep, so lets consider how a typical recipe could break down peanut-butter-3216263_1920using shelf-stable and freezer food items. Overnight oats typically utilize oats, milk/yogurt, fruit, and maybe nut butter or honey. Four of these ingredients can be shelf-stable, so you can stock your pantry with them: oats, fruit (canned), nut butter, and honey. In addition to stocking your pantry, you can also stock your freezer with frozen fruit, which can be added to your overnight oats, if you don’t prefer canned fruit. As a result, you will only need to buy fresh milk/yogurt to make your overnight oats for the week!

Having a well prepared freezer can allow you to maintain a healthy diet even on those weeks that you might not have time to get to the grocery store. You can either buy already frozen food items, like fruits and vegetables, or you can cut your own fresh, in-season produce and freeze it. Freezing your own produce may save you some dollars in the long run. Keeping a variety of frozen chopped vegetables helps to ensure that you can add a quick veggie to each of your meals. Not only do veggies make good sides for well-balanced meals, but they are great additions to the main course as well. One of my go-to quick meals is a veggie omelet that only requires having fresh eggs on hand.

In addition to frozen vegetables, having frozen fruit on hand can be great for quick and easy smoothies. In a pinch, you can throw together frozen fruit, frozen spinach (or other veggies, like carrots) into a blender with some water or milk, and yogurt for a quick, nutritious snack. You can also plan ahead and meal prep some pre-portioned smoothie packets to have in your freezer that you can just dump in your blender and go!raspberries-2897386_1920.jpg

Having a fully stocked pantry and freezer can save you time and money as you get started with meal prepping. Prepping pre-portioned meals and snacks can make for an easy, convenient, and healthy week ahead, so it is well worth it, in my opinion. My husband and I do this every week, and we love it, especially now that we are able to utilize our freezer and pantry more. One more tip we have learned is that you can save some of your properly frozen, meal prepped food to add variety to your menus for future weeks without any extra time or hassle. Happy prepping!

Written By: Amy Meehan, MPH, Healthy People Program Specialist, The Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences

Reviewed By:  Misty Harmon, MS, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State Univeristy Extension, Perry County.

Sources:

https://food.unl.edu/basic-foods-cupboard-fridge-and-freezer

http://livesmartohio.osu.edu/food/bohlen-19osu-edu/overnight-oatmeal-to-the-rescue/

https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-5341

http://extension.uga.edu/programs-services/school-garden-resources/classroom-cookbook/smoothies.html

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Meal prepping for your week ahead has become a very popular trend lately. This can help you to stay on track with your nutrition and budget, and save time. Before you can meal prep, however, you need to effectively make a meal plan. This includes your grocery list and deciding on what all your meals will be for the week.

In order to keep within your budget, begin by looking at your local grocery store’s weekly ad. This circular indicates which items in the store are on sale or have special discounts for that week. In addition to  weekly ads, many grocery stores also offer coupons, either in the store or online, that can help you to save even more! By looking at these resources, you can utilize many food items that are on sale, resulting in a diverse yet equally exciting meal plan. In addition, it’s a good idea to be aware of what produce items are in season throughout the year. Those items also tend to be cheaper when they are in season and more abundant.

produce-2472015_1920

Once you have determined which food items match your taste and budget from grocery store ads and coupons, it’s time to put those food items together to create complete meals. In order to achieve a healthy, balanced diet, start with including at least three food groups in every meal. Here is an example of typical meal prep menu that my husband and I really like to eat in a day:

Breakfast: Overnight oats – old fashioned oats (grains), non-fat milk/Greek yogurt (dairy), topped with fruit (fruit)

Lunch: Turkey taco salad – mixed greens and pico de gallo (non-starchy vegetables), ground turkey seasoned with taco seasoning (protein), and low-fat shredded cheese (dairy), with lime juice

Dinner: Baked garlic lemon chicken (protein) over rice (grains) with asparagus (non-starchy vegetable)

An interactive plate tool is a great way to check how many food groups you are including at your meal: http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/create-your-plate/?referrer=https://www.google.com/ You can be as creative as you want to be, and this tool will help to ensure that you are getting nutrient variety at every meal. Give meal planning a try, and share with us some of your favorite meal prep ideas!

Written By: Amy Meehan, MPH, Healthy People Program Specialist, Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences

Reviewed By: Shannon Carter, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County

References:

http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/create-your-plate/?referrer=https://www.google.com/

http://www.choosemyplate.gov

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Holiday meals are a wonderful way to re-connect with family and friends. We tend to spend more money and time preparing special holiday foods. USDA offers some tips on preparing a healthy, low-cost holiday meal:

Plan ahead. Deciding early on your menu can save both time and money. You can look for sales and coupons to help lower food costs. Check your cupboards and use what you have along with items you need to purchase. For more help in planning your meal, check out USDA’s Countdown to Thanksgiving.

Use canned and frozen produce. Because these foods can be stored longer, you can purchase them when they are on sale.

thanksgiving.jpgConsider frozen meat. Meat tends to be the most expensive part of the meal. In general, frozen meats tend to cost less. Make sure you have space in your freezer to store and your refrigerator later for thawing before cooking and also for storing leftovers.

Have a potluck. Invite family members to bring a dish with them. You can coordinate these dishes with your menu so there is a nice variety. This can save you both time and money.

Healthy and homemade. While store-bought dishes or desserts can save you time, they can be expensive. Making them yourself can help save money and you can adjust the amount of salt, sugar and fat as your prepare the food.

Try a new recipe. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service offers a variety of healthy, low-cost recipes. You can also read more on the MyPlate Holiday Makeover.

Use your leftovers. You want to make sure all leftovers are stored safely so they can become part of a tasty dish. Freeze what you cannot use within 7 days.

Our Live Healthy Live Well team wishes you and yours a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

Sources:

Rowe, A. (2013). Stretching a Holiday Food Budget during the Busy Holiday Season. United States Department of Agriculture. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2013/12/3/stretching-holiday-food-budget-during-busy-holiday-season

Countdown to the Thanksgiving Holiday. (2013) United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety Inspection Service. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/seasonal-food-safety/countdown-to-the-thanksgiving-holiday/CT_Index

Written by: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County.

Reviewed by:  Tammy Jones, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Pike County.

 

 

 

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Welcome to 2017! Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? If so, chances are you set at least one goal related to staying fit and healthy. About 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, and losing weight is at the top of the list.

myplate_yellowWe all know that healthy eating is important, but sometimes it’s easier said than done when hectic schedules and tight budgets get in the way. To achieve your goal, a little bit of thought and planning can go a long way! One strategy is to use MyPlate as a guide to brainstorm meals that fit your family’s lifestyle and preferences. I find that it can be helpful to consider three main meal components – grains, vegetables and protein – and think about how to combine those components to make fast, nutritious meals throughout the week.

  1. Grains – Grains are often the base of a meal, especially if you’re fixing a skillet dish or casserole. Foods in the grain group include rice, quinoa, barley, pasta, couscous, bread and tortillas. MyPlate recommends we make at least half our grains whole grains, so look for whole grain varieties as available. When you cook a grain such as rice, quinoa, barley or pasta, you may want to fix a full pot so that you have enough to keep in the refrigerator or freezer and use to create “heat and eat” meals throughout the week.
  1. Vegetables – MyPlate recommends we make half our plate fruits and vegetables, and this can include fresh, frozen and canned items. I like to roast fresh vegetables in large batches and combine them with pre-cooked grains to create quick meals throughout the week. Frozen vegetables are also a fast and convenient way to add nutrition to meals.
  1. Protein – Protein includes meat, poultry, fish and eggs as well as nuts, seeds and beans. As with grains, when cooking meat or poultry, consider cooking enough to last the entire week. You can bake or grill meats, then use them in soups, casseroles or skillet meals in addition to being entrees. Canned beans are great to have on hand to conveniently add protein to your meals.

couscousWhen you take the time to prepare grains, vegetables and protein in advance, it’s easy to throw together a quick weeknight meal. Dairy and fruit can then be added as toppings or side dishes.

Here are a few examples:

  • Whole grain couscous with broccoli, carrots, chickpeas (or chicken), feta cheese and raisins
  • Whole grain pasta with salmon, asparagus, lemon zest and Parmesan cheese, served with a side salad
  • Risotto with Brussels sprouts, bacon, Parmesan cheese and apple slices
  • Hamburger skillet with whole wheat macaroni, bell pepper, onion, tomato and cheese
  • Tuna noodle casserole with peas and mushrooms
  • Quinoa with roasted beets, orange slices, goat cheese and almond slivers served over arugula or spring mix
  • Quinoa with sliced apples or pears, feta cheese and almond slivers served over spring mix
  • Veggie wraps with sliced turkey, avocado and cheese

Do you have any favorite 30-minute MyPlate meals? Look for additional inspiration and share your ideas at MyPlate, MyWins.

 

Author: Jenny Lobb, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Franklin County, lobb.3@osu.edu

Reviewer: Dan Remley, Field Specialist, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, O.S.U. South Centers, remley.4@osu.edu

 

Sources:

Statistic Brain (2016). New Year’s Resolution Statistics. http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/

USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov (2016). MyPlate, MyWins. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/myplate-mywins

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If you’ve ever had that 5:00 panic as you get home from work and wonder what in the world you’re going to feed your family for supper… you’re not alone. Most folks either enjoy meal planning or dread it, but for busy families it is a must. Planning your meals can save you time and money and help you serve healthier food. The neat thing is that there is more than one way to do it.

Here are some tips from Iowa State University Extension:

Check items you have in your refrigerator, freezer and cupboards that need to be used, and plan your menus using these items first.

Serve what they like. When you serve food your family likes, you avoid waste. Gather low-cost, nutritious recipes that your family likes and serve them regularly.

Consider your schedule. When creating your menus and shopping list, think about how much time you will have to prepare the meal on a particular day. If it’s a slow week, make meals ahead and freeze them. If it’s a busy week, use some of the meals you froze earlier or just keep it simple with foods that require little preparation.

Check newspaper ads. Look at local store ads to find sales. As you become familiar with the costs of regularly purchased items, you will be able to quickly identify good deals.

Balance your menus. Use MyPlate as a guide to include foods from all the groups: Vegetable, Fruit, Grain, Dairy and Protein. For more help in planning, tracking and analyzing your diet, check out USDA’s SuperTracker.

meal planning

Get inspired. Sometimes you might need some inspiration or new recipes. You can find healthy low-cost recipes here. You might also trade dinner ideas with friends and co-workers or use ‘theme night’ meals like Taco Tuesday or Sandwich Saturday. Ethnic foods can open a whole new set of recipes… try Italian, Asian, Mexican, even Thai.

Involve your household. Kids can help choose menus, pick a new vegetable or fruit to try, set the table or even help with simple food prep.

Print a copy of the 5-day meal planning worksheet to get you started.

Hopefully you learned a helpful tip, or maybe you have one to share… feel free to comment.

Sources:

Iowa State University Extension http://www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/page/meal-planning-basics

Recipes http://www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/recipes/all

USDA MyPlate http://www.choosemyplate.gov

Written by: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County

Reviewed by: Tammy Jones, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Pike County

 

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