Sunday, June 29

Strawberries and Pie

We went for our first round of strawberry picking this weekend. We go back often, until berry season is over, so the first batch typically gets eaten up by tiny fingers within minutes. If I'm lucky I can sneak a few handfuls away for recipes I want to try or for our family favorites. The very first thing we did when we got home was make strawberry pie.

We came home with 20 pounds of strawberries, which allowed me an entire eight quarts of berries to play with. I have a large freezer that allows me to bake/cook in large batches and freeze what is not eaten right away. Which in turn frees up a lot of time, saves me money and is stress-free. In fact, I have an entire post to share all about freezing. It's part of the Eating Well On A Budget Series  (click the link if you want to read parts 1-3).

I thought I would share some pictures of my little helpers...

What are some of your favorite strawberry recipes?

Thursday, June 26

Eating Well on a Budget Part 3 - Sourcing Your Items Inexpensively

You have your plan. You have your list. Now the next step is getting all those items you need without spending a fortune.

** This list also has local options for those that live in the area, but most of these can be found nation wide. **

If your pantry is pretty bare, or you have been living off of boxed or cellophane wrapped food, the first month, possibly two, will be slightly more expensive. Don't panic though, the little bit extra you spend now, will save you ten times as much down the road.

Below you will see a list of categories. Under each category, is the description of what I typically buy, and beneath that is where I purchase the items. Remember, I don't make more than one shopping trip a week - it isn't worth the gas money, time spent or possible impulse buys that come with the extra trips. I also am an Amazon Prime member, and order a lot of my specialty items that would normally have me driving from small shop to small shop, online. So, sometimes I pay a little more for something I know I can get cheaper somewhere else, but that usually only involves fruit and veggies because I have a well stocked pantry. You will too if you continue with this plan.

Bulk Spices and Yeast
This is where some extra money is placed upfront, but pays back in the end. I buy spices in bulk, so it's not very often I run out and I save a ton of money by not purchasing those tiny $3 containers of spice that last a month at most. Don't go out and buy a million spices at once, just pick up what you need for that month. Before you know it, you'll have an entire cabinet of accumulated spices.

Mountain Rose Herbs - online (organic options) - I absolutely love this company. They offer almost every spice imaginable, and at a very reasonable price. The only qualm I have is the cost of shipping can offset the savings if you don't buy enough in one purchase.
Joseph's - local - While these are not organic, they are bulk and of good quality. Hands down, this is the cheapest place to buy spices that I can find. I pay about $3 for each spice and have enough to fill a pint sized mason jar. That's a lot! Most spices have a shelf life of one year, and I almost never finish the entire jar. I've started filling jam sized mason jars instead and giving the extra to friends. You could be even more frugal and split a bag of spice with a friend, so you would both end up paying about $1.50.
Costco - membership needed - I typically make my own spice blends from the basics I keep on hand, but occasionally my husband likes to grab a bbq rub or grilling seasoning mix he knows he likes. Again, these are super cheap, about $4 for 20 plus ounces. This is also where I buy yeast. Making yeasted breads from scratch almost lose their cost effectiveness (though still a whole lot healthier than store bought) when you buy those little pre-measured packets. For the cost of six packets (enough for six loaves of bread), I can buy a bulk package of yeast that will last 2 years (that's how long it will stay active in the freezer) assuming I bake 4 loaves of bread each week. The savings comes out to about $96 dollars a year - or one week's worth of groceries at our house.

Grains and Flours
This is an area that I just started to consider buying in bulk for the long-term. What I mean by that is instead of just buying a large 5 pound bag, I could be buying the very large 25 pound (or more!) bags that come in food-grade resealable buckets. The larger bulk buckets are marketed more towards "prepers", but considering most unprocessed grains have a shelf of 10 plus years and the price of the larger amount can save you more than 50%, it makes sense. The food grade containers are a must, unless you can transfer the grains to air tight containers that will keep tiny buys and kritters out. The last thing you want to do is open up your bag of rice and find you have to trash the entire thing because it has been contaminated. Keep in mind also, this is only for unprocessed whole grains - never buy that much flour unless you have the room in your freezer to store it. Once a grain is ground into flour, it starts oxidizing immediately. The longer flour is exposed to oxygen, the less nutritious it is and it will, within a short time span, go rancid unless the bran and germ have been removed. I'm currently stashing a little bit of money aside each week to save up for a grain mill. I've thought about it for years and have finally decided that the expense is worth the option of storing more grains, and having fresh, nutrient rich flour on hand whenever I need it.

Costco - membership needed - I get most of my grains here, specifically oatmeal (10lbs - $6.50), Organic brown rice (12lbs - $12) and popcorn kernals.
Joesphs - I buy most of my specialty flours at Joesphs. Items from Bob's Red Mill tend to be priced lower here than anywhere else I have found locally or online.
Amazon (online) - This has been my best source for ancient wheat (heirloom), specifically Einkorn and Farro (Emmer). I don't use a lot of it because it is expensive and we limit the amount of wheat in our diets. This is also where I buy my King Arthur flour - both whole red wheat and whole white wheat.
Survival Acres ( - If you have the space, inclination and extra money, this online site is the best I've found for bulk whole grains. You would be buying 25-50lbs at a time, but it will last you years.

Nuts, Seeds and Beans
I try to keep a variety of nuts and seeds around the house. They're used for baking, snacking and in meals. As for beans, those are always purchased dried. The cost savings between buying bulk dried beans versus canned is huge - it's also healthier.

Joesph's - I buy most of our whole raw nuts and seeds here. You will find them in the bulk section.
Costco (membership needed) - Here I will pick up whole organic quinoa, organic chia, ground flax, walnuts, pecans and almond butter.
Amazon - (online) Honeyville Almond Flour is actually cheaper purchased here provided you group it with more orders. I order organic cacao nibs, dried gogi berries and sunbutter as well.
**As far as bulk dried beans go, I pick them up where ever I happen to be. I have yet to come across an expensive bag of dried beans.**

Dairy, Dairy Alternatives and Eggs
I'm pretty picky about my dairy - I know, I'm strange. I won't buy dairy at all unless it has either been fermented or aged(yogurts/cheese), most of the casein has been removed (heavy cream, butter) or has been low-vat pasteurized (read more about that here). Even with low-vat pasteurization, I limit dairy milk to one gallon every other week or so and half of that gets turned into yogurt. I have also been called a butter snob more than once or twice in my life. I pretty much only buy Kerrygold butter, imported from Ireland and made from 100% grass fed cows. If I happen to be in a pinch and need butter but can't find my usual, I look first for imported butters from Europe (they have much stricter food standards than we do), and if I can't find those, then I grab organic. I'll go into the reasoning behind all of this in another post - I can sense eye glazing...

Joseph's - Kalona SuperNatural low-vat pasteurized organic whole milk (pricey but worth every penny) and a small cup of their yogurt if I don't have any leftover from my last batch.
Costco (membership) - Organic Eggs - if I'm not currently picking them up from the Woodstock Farmer's market, I buy them here (24 eggs for $6), Mountain High plain yogurt (4lbs is $4) we mix our own flavors quickly and easily by adding honey, maple syrup, jam, apple-butter, dried fruit, granola or puffed rice. Almond milk, and rice milk can be bought in bulk slightly cheaper. Most of our cheese comes from costco because it's so much cheaper and can easily be frozen and then pulled out to thaw quickly when needed. I usually buy a large block of Tillamonk Cheddar for $7 and that will give me roughly 12 cups of shredded cheese. This is where I buy my Kerrygold butter. It costs around $6.50 for 3 cups of butter. That may seem high, but it's the cheapest I have been able to source it, and with other stores charging closer to $4 for 1 cup, it's a good price. Nutritionally, it would be worth the $4 a cup, in my opinion. Again, I buy up a lot of butter when I find it (it is not available year round at Costco), and store it in my freezer.

I try to keep our meat sources local and pasture raised or grass-fed. I buy a lot of our beef and poultry at the farmer's market. If the items I'm looking for are not available there, or are priced beyond my means, I typically buy the rest at Costco. As a side note, if you're purchasing bison, lamb or game meat, these items are usually high quality everywhere. It's the conventional, mass-produced items (think beef, poultry & pork) that contain the highest amounts of antibiotics and are given unsatisfactory diets. You most definetly are what you eat in this category. If the meat you're eating was raised poorly, the nutrition you get from it is also poor.

Farmer's Market - I only buy beef from a local farmer - Michele Aavang at Willow Lea Stock Farm. Her animals are treated well, grass-fed for the majority of their lifespan and I have always been beyond happy with anything I've purchased from her. Our family recently made the decision to invest in half a cow with another family and I would do it again in heartbeat. If you have the freezer space and the money set aside - you can save a ton of money. We also pick up bratworst, lard and whole chickens here. Check to see if you have a farmer near by.
Costco - (membership)- If you don't have access to a local source of grass-fed beef, Costco offers organic ground beef. As much as I would love to buy whole chickens (and we only buy the whole chicken, never the packaged cuts), sometimes my budget can not support it. You can buy organic whole chickens at a pretty reasonable price. We buy canned wild Alaskan salmon and sardines packed in olive oil here as well.

Fruits and Veggies
The most economical thing to do here is grow your own, however, for a lot of us (including myself), that is not an option. You can grow your own herbs in small containers just about anywhere, and you should. One basil plant can cost as much as 3 seed packets - think of all that basil you could get! Try it, you'll be happy you did.

Farmer's Market - I try to buy whatever I can while it's in season at the market. I will buy up extras and either freeze or can as much as possible to have during the winter. Sometimes it pays to go to the market near the end of the day, produce is sometimes marked down dramatically or even given away - this doesn't happen all the time so don't count on it, but it has happened to me more than a few times and I've been super grateful.
Joseph's - I love the produce here, as well as the prices and the variety is huge.
Local Grocer - You're local grocery store will likely have fresher produce than any of the big box discount stores. The fresher your fruit and veggies, the more nutrition they maintain.
Costco (membership) - I stock up on giant bags of frozen organic fruits and vegetables here. I end up paying about $1 per pound on average, sometimes less. I also buy dried dates, figs and raisins here.

Coffee, teas, and other drinks
Aside from our nut/rice milks, we pretty much stick to water and sometimes 100% orange or grape juice. I'm the only one in the house that drinks coffee and tea, so we don't spend a whole lot here.

Costco (membership) - I can buy large 2.5 lb bags of organic or fair trade whole coffee beans (they offer ground too) for about $10 - that's almost a 50% savings from even the box box stores.
Mountain Rose Herbs - You buy organic, loose leaf teas here that are phenomenal. Again, just make sure to have more than one or two items on your buying list before you order from them or the cost of shipping will out-weigh the savings.
Amazon - If you're looking for something specific, check here before driving all over town.

Condiments and Sweeteners
As a rule, I try to keep the amount of sweeteners in our diets low, which in turn helps offset the expense. We try to use honey, maple syrup, blackstrap molasses, applesauce, bananas and dates to sweeten most of our recipes. I large bag of organic sugar will last us six or months unless I'm doing holiday baking.

Farm Bureau - Local honey - we pay $9 for three pounds.
Costco (membership) - Organic sugar, maple syrup, and dates.
Amazon - If you don't have a Costco membership and can't talk someone you know who does have one into picking stuff up for you, check here.

Oh. My. Goodness.

If you're still with me, kudos to you - you must really want to eat well on a budget. That was a long, and daunting list. Do not let it overwhelm you. I wanted to share where I find the best prices for the best food I can afford. Some of this might work for you and some of it won't and that's okay. I've been watching my dollars and food budget for over seven years and this is where I am - I still have room to learn and grow but I'm leaps and bounds ahead of where I started. Take your time and don't stress yourself out. Personally, I've turned saving grocery money into a game and every month I try to beat my last score (dollars not spent) while still eating very well.

If you know of an inexpensive resource, by all means, please share in the comments section below. I know I would love to hear about it and so would other readers.

Part 4 of this series - Freezing Food - Make your grocery money work for you will be available soon.

Wednesday, June 18

Grain Free Banana Bread Recipe

I thought a recipe post would be a nice break from the Eat Well on a Budget Series. I'll have Part 3 available for you soon. In the mean time, you should go make this Grain Free Banana Bread Recipe  - it's so easy and tastes delicious!

**This post was originally written for a blog I ran for a short time and is no longer online. I thought it would fit well here.**

We try to vary our diet as much as possible, especially when it comes to grains and starches. If you follow the Standard American Diet, think about how many times a day you ingest wheat (probably at least 5 servings, and that's a really low estimate). Now, imagine you were to replace every time you ate wheat in a day, with eggs. Would you really eat that many eggs in one day? Probably not. Just like you wouldn't eat that many potatoes in a day or apples and so on.

Variety is key to a balanced, healthy, nutrient dense diet. So while we do eat some wheat (and we change it up from Hard Red, Hard White, Spelt & Einkorn), we don't typically have more than one serving a day.  We also regularly eat oats, corn, buckwheat and other starches like beans. We have recently added organic coconut flour to our diets - it's a rich source of fiber, protein and healthy fats. It has a natural slightly sweet flavor, which reduces the amount of sweetener you need in baked goods and a little bit goes a long way.

This recipe is a HUGE household favorite. An entire loaf disappears in less than a day. Thankfully it's really easy to make and is loaded with healthy ingredients. You can find the original recipe here.

Grain Free Banana Bread
4 large Bananas
6 Pastured/organic eggs
8 Whole pitted dates (Unless you're using medjool dates, then cut in amount in half)
1/2 C Coconut Flour
1/4 C Chia Seeds
2 tsp Pure Vanilla extract
1/4 C Organic Coconut oil
1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder

Unsweetened coconut flakes
Dark chocolate chips

1) Preheat oven to 350

2) In a food processor, combine bananas, eggs, dates, oil, cinnamon, vanilla and baking powder. Puls until creamy and fully combined.

3) Add the coconut flour and chia sees, pulse until fully combined and then let rest for 5 minutes.

4) Use coconut oil to grease a loaf pan, then line with parchment paper so that it folds over the sides.

5) Pour the batter into the loaf pan. If you want to add dark chocolate chips, gently fold them into the batter after it is in the loaf pan. Garnish with cinnamon and unsweetened coconut.

6) Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan.

Monday, June 16

How To Eat Well on a Budget - Part Two - Grocery & To Make List

Photo Credit

**This is part of an on-going series. If you missed part one, click here.**
It's been a few days. I hope that gave you enough time to let the planning part of this series sink in. I also hope you made a plan. I needed a few days to sort out my momma-mind and organize this post for you. Win-win for us both, right?
Okay, so now that you have your whole month of meals planned out - or at least your dinners, you need to make a grocery list. The biggest money saver of this activity is shopping in your house. Yup, you heard me right, to eat well on a budget, you need to shop your house.
The second biggest money saver (actually this is just as important as the first) - you have to be willing to cook and bake. Don't know how? Or think your cooking sucks? Just start. It really is that easy. The more you do something, the better you will get at it. It's inevitable. Don't believe me? I was THE WORST cook/baker when I first got married. In fact, I hated it so much, I hardly ever did it. I love it now, almost to a fault, but if you would have told me I would be like this, back when I was a newly wed - I would have thought you were crazy.
Now that we have that out of the way...
The third biggest money saver and an easy way to save a ton on groceries is to forego the packaged foods. When we first started to transition to a healthier, real food diet, the first thing I did was stop buying packaged snack food. No more boxed cookies, breakfast cereals, crackers, bake mixes, puddings, juice boxes, chips and so on. This is much easier to do when you have small children. If your children are older and set in their habits, only buy half the packaged foods (sticking with the healthiest you can) and then slowly transition to none. The goal here is to not start a war in the house over food.
The easiest snack food in the world is fruit and raw veggies. I let my kids eat these whenever they want, and it's not only quick and easy, it's healthy. Our bodies were not created in a lab, and they are not designed to thrive off of food created by science. This is where the "To Make List" comes into play, and I'll explain that more in a moment.
Compile all your recipe ingredients to see what you need in order to make what you want for the month (don't forget to double your quantities - remember, you're cooking two dinners each night to save you from having to do it another night the following week). Now, look in your fridge, your freezer, your pantry (or in my case my basement) and check off everything you already have. Doing this alone will save tons. This turned into a huge deal for me once we started shopping at bulk warehouses. Those big bulk buys can save you tons of money, provided you actually use it all up before it goes bad or you forget about it and double purchase. I've read other blogs where people keep an updated spreadsheet and I think that's amazing and give them so much credit, but I just don't have that in me. I guess I'm not "Type A" enough? Either way, if you're a space-cadet, creative, sleep deprived mom like me, you can still achieve the same goal by doing a quick glance over your freezer, fridge and storage - it takes five minutes and sometimes less, even if those things are on different levels of your house. Write down what you need to buy.
Now take a look at that list. What is on it that you want to purchase organic or local? In our house, we place buying locally at the top of our priority, followed by organic, then minimally processed. I consider myself lucky that we live in an area where farms are literally 2 minutes away and we have a lot of options. If you live in a city or non-farming area, you likely have a farmers market near by (please support your local farmers, they need it), and if not, your grocery store will more often than not advertise that an item is locally sourced. Locally sourced food, in my opinion is your best bet because it costs less to get it to your table, is fresher and eats up less energy than items (think fruit and vegetables) that have to be flown in.
If you plan your meals around what's in season, you'll save more money. Now, there is a catch to this. If something on your list is from the "dirty dozen" - the list of foods with the highest concentration pesticides (click here for this years dirty dozen), buy it organic, unless you're purchasing directly from the farmer and can ask questions. An example of this would be strawberries. Strawberries are always near the top of the dirty dozen list every year. For the life of me, I can not find organic strawberries worth their price anywhere, and of course, they are a favorite in my house. We do, however have an abundance of "pick your own" strawberry farms near by, and one in particular that is just down the street from us - lucky us! I found out that the farm by us only sprays a small amount of watered down pesticide on their plants, prior to the fruit actually budding, once, and that's it. My daughter used to get a rash on the sides of her mouth from eating strawberries from the store, but when she eats strawberries that we pick ourselves she's fine - makes you think, huh? I take my children strawberry picking about every other week during the season. We gather as much as we possibly can and make jam, pies, and freeze whole berries - enough for the entire year. I know they think I'm strange, I typically get a "You guys are back AGAIN?" from someone, but it's always with a smile and sometimes a discount. It also makes for an inexpensive summer activity to keep the kids happy and busy - they love it, I love it, again, win-win.
I suppose this brings up another point, the freezer. If you can find an additional freezer (assuming you don't already have one), get it - it's worth the investment. Check the energy costs if you're not sure, but if you have a family, and cook most of your meals at home, I can almost guarantee it will be worth it. Check Craigslist or your newspaper for used ones. I got super lucky a couple years ago and found an almost new upright freezer on craigslist for only $100. It was worth every penny.
Okay, so back to the list. If you only buy exactly what you need, I'm pretty sure you can find a way to squeeze in some organic produce into your budget. If not though, don't skimp on the produce - local, organic or not, it's always healthier to eat the produce than to skip it because it's not "pure" enough.
Incase you're getting lost or over-whelmed, here's a quick breakdown of the shopping order.
  • Buy it local
  • Buy it organic
  • Buy it at a warehouse
  • Buy it at a store
I should also add that the longer you do this, the cheaper and easier it will get. I only go shopping for groceries once a week, and sometimes less. Most of the time it's for "filler" items that I don't already have on hand. Where ever the bulk of the items I need to get are located, that's where I pick up all of my items. So instead of stopping at four different places and getting exactly what I want from each store and "saving" $5, I buy it all at one place. Sometimes that means I'm at Costco picking up produce (that may not be as organic or local as I want) as well as my huge package of toilet paper. Don't get crazy or elitist about your shopping. You always have to take into consideration the gas money involved in getting from point A to point B. If you're riding your bike to the store with a trailer, well then, that's entirely different and you should go to as many places as you want.
It pretty much boils down to just sticking to the list, and nothing more. Don't allow yourself to be tempted into impulse buys. You can avoid this by eating prior to shopping (buying food while you're hungry is never a good idea, trust me), and if your kids can't handle all the goldfish and ice cream rejections, go alone if you can. I've gone grocery shopping at midnight - not exactly my idea of a night out, but sometimes it's necessary.
Now, on to the "To Make List". Eating well on a budget and saving money on food is easy when you have a plan. Just like you made a plan for the month with meals, you should make a plan of what items you want to make ahead for quick breakfasts, snacks and what I like to refer to as The Mad Dash Out The Door Because We're Running Late foods (by the way, we're always running late).
Here's a list of what is typically on my "To Make List"(though not every week so don't get scared):
-Pumpkin Scones
-Oatmeal Breakfast "Cookies"
-Breakfast Sausage Patties
-Biscuits, rolls or burger buns
-Granola bars
Just like your dinners, you're going to be making more than you need. Anything that can be frozen, I highly recommend making quadruple what you need. Seriously. If I'm about to make something that I know my whole family likes, I make the biggest batch I can and freeze everything we don't use.
I can't tell you how nice it is to just pull something out of the freezer and pop it in the toaster in the mornings, or do a quick defrost in the microwave. One giant batch of pancakes or waffles will last us two months, easy, because we don't eat them every morning. I'm pretty sure anyone reading this could handle making pancakes six times a year.
I think that's it for now. Part 3 is coming soon. Please feel free to ask questions if you have any - I read every comment left on this blog.
Take care!

Saturday, June 14

How To Eat Well on a Budget - Part One

The other day, a facebook friend wrote a post about not being able to afford organic food on a $400 dollar a month grocery budget. I don't normally participate on subjects that I think might spark a debate - I have better ways to spend my time. Sorry, but it's the truth. Anyway, I like this person and I feel pretty strongly about the subject and felt the need to chime in. I'm glad I did, everything ended on a positive note. But that got me thinking - she can't be the only person who feels this way, so maybe it's worth writing a post about.

So here's my problem. I get so overly excited about food, and cooking, and budgeting and health and, and, and.... exactly. I have a really hard time organizing all my thoughts on this subject in a way that will come out clearly, concise and easily understood. I also wanted to provide actual resources. I have spent the last 4 or so years of my life eating fairly well, in my opinion, and doing it inexpensively. The catch though, is that in order to save money, I need to shop at different places. I also don't have the time, energy or gas money to be driving all over town or the town over every week - so planing is involved.

Thus, my dear friend, a series is needed. For fear of overwhelming you, or my A.D.D. kicking in (no really) or my kids burning down the house in an attempt to pry me from the computer, this subject needs to be broken up into segments.

Here's the plan...

Part 1 - Meal Planning
Part 2 - Grocery and To Make List
Part 3 - Sourcing your items inexpensively (if you live by me you're in luck! I'm giving you all my "places")
Part 4 - Freezing
Part 5 - Avoiding Waste

Phew! I'm exhausted just looking at that. I can promise you this, however, at first it will seem like a giant pain in the ass, because, well, it is. But, after a couple weeks, it turns into second nature. The biggest pay-off is you'll be eating super healthy most of the time, not to mention the money not spent. Change the way you think about your money. Instead of thinking "How much money will this cost me?", think "How many hours of my life do I need to exchange for this?" I use this with my kids when they're begging to go out to eat (which is at least 4 times a week - we go out about once a week - they are not deprived). I explain that one meal out is sometimes all the money I make in a night waiting tables. So, would they rather spend an entire night with me home and the whole family together, or would they rather go eat that meal that more often than not leaves them with a bellyache. I was honestly scared the first time I asked my kids this question, but thankfully they chose quality family time over a dinner out.

Ok, on to the good stuff. Let's start with meal planning. It's really easy to eat well on a budget as long as you plan your meals. Truly, I believe this makes up 80% of your total expenditure. So just getting this part down will save you lots of money. Now, I'm about to ask something of you that might make you want to throw in the towel - don't do it! Stick with me, it gets better I promise! I want you to plan your entire month's worth of meals. Yes, that's right, a whole month. It might seem intimidating at first but let me break it down for you. You technically only really need two weeks worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners. That's 14 days. Sound a little better?

Think about what your family actually enjoys eating at these meals. Don't try and drastically overhaul your food choices yet, that's another series all in and of itself. I tend to keep my breakfasts and lunches really simple, which keeps costs low and my sanity in check.

Here's an example of our low-cost breakfasts:

Scrambled or Fried eggs and fresh fruit
Yogurt and frozen fruit smoothies (I throw greens in there if we have them)
Pre-made-my-me Waffles, Pancakes or Fruit Tarts pulled from the freezer & popped in the toaster
Homemade Granola with dried fruit & whole milk
Breakfast tacos using El Milagro corn tortillas (3 ingredients in these babies - corn, water & lime)
Cracked Wheat with berries and cream

And now our lunches:
Open-face sandwiches with a side of chopped fresh veggies & butternut squash hummus dip
Salads make with mixed greens, whatever meat scraps we have leftover from a previous meal, any on hand veggies & homemade dressing
Extras from non-frozen leftovers (I'll explain in a moment)
Eggs any way with toast and butter
Cheesy Tacos
Tortilla pizzas (again using El Milagro tortillas or homemade ones - whichever I have on hand)

Now comes the biggest part. Dinners.

We have a pretty hectic schedule and three to four nights of the week, we're running from camps to practices or to the sitter's so I can work and so on. I do my best to plan out two bigger, more involved dinners, and then keep the rest super simple and inexpensive. Any time I cook anything for dinner, I double the recipe. This is where my sanity is saved. I immediately pack up and freeze the extra meal to use either the following week or week after. By doing this, I technically only have to cook dinner two weeks out of the month. If you have the freezer space and the motivation, you could easily make three or four times the amount and save yourself (and your energy bill) that much more. My family rarely finishes an entire recipe, so what's left from the original meal becomes lunch for the next day. If, by chance they do finish it all, I use one of our easy fill in lunches listed above. As I write this (late Saturday night), I have just finished up a week's worth of cooking meals, so next week all I have to do is remember to pull out our meals from the freezer the night before and let them hang out in our fridge until they need reheating for dinner.

Many times, by Friday or Saturday, we start to run low on pre-made dinners/left-overs. I've found a quick, easy and inexpensive solution to this problem. Left-over casserole. Love it! I cook up some rice with any remaining chicken stock I have or water if I'm out, make a simple white sauce using milk, butter and flour (recipe coming soon) and toss in any left over or about to turn veggies or meat from the fridge. Mix it all up in a casserole dish and sprinkle cheese on top, toss it in the oven until the cheese is melted, and there's dinner.

I hope I didn't overwhelm you. I also hope I gave you a good starting off point to start saving on your grocery bill. I realize I left out the buying organic info, I'll tackle that in the next post - Part 2 - Grocery and To Make List.

Have a great weekend! And if you're a dad, happy Father's Day!


Thursday, June 5

Homemade Bug Bite Salve

I love this time of year.

Everything around me is growing, blooming and basically coming alive. Unfortunately, that also includes mosquitoes. We've had a lot of rain lately, and thus a ton of those pesky little buzzers have been showing up as soon as the sun starts to set. Years ago, when my oldest attended a daycare and bug repellent was insisted upon, I did some research and came across a product called Badger Balm. We, as a family have been using it ever since. I love it! As with any all natural repellent, it doesn't quite rival it's chemical laden counterparts, but it does a pretty darn good job. As long as you don't mind smelling like lemon and citronella. For the bites we do encounter, I have a really simple to make salve to share with you. It takes about 2 minutes start to finish. 

A few months ago, I took a serious interest in essential oils and finding more natural ways to treat basic ailments. So when my children were all sitting around the table scratching their swollen elbows and knees, I pulled out my copy of "Surviving When Modern Medicine Fails" by Scott Johnson. The book, despite it's extremist title is my favorite go-to for essential oil reference. He suggests using either Lavendar or melaleuca. We have treated minor burns and skin irritations using Lavendar with great success. I decided to try the melaleuca because it's a bit more potent in the skin soothing department. The base of the salve is coconut oil which as antibacterial and anti-fungal components that I felt would serve us better than using an olive oil base. 

So far this slave has worked out great for us. It needs to be reapplied about every two hours until the bite no longer bothers you.

What you need:
4 tablespoons organic coconut oil
1 tablespoon grated beeswax or pastilles
1 tablespoon sweet almond oil
1 vitamin E gel capsule (unless your almond oil has it added already - mine does)
15 drops of Melaleuca or Lavender

In a double boiler or microwave, slowly melt down the coconut oil, beeswax, and almond oil. Only heat it long enough for the wax to disappear. If you decide to use the microwave, heat your ingredients in a glass container for 20 second increments stirring between each 20 seconds. Once you have a clear liquid, stir in the contents of your vitamin E capsule (pierce it with a toothpick and squeeze it into your mixture) and then gently stir in the essential oil. Pour your mixture into a glass or metal container and pop it in the refrigerator until it's set. The end product is shelf stable but super soft to the touch.

Monday, June 2

Chocolate Coconut Energy Bites

Goodness! It's weird to be blogging again.

I stopped blogging for so long. I considered just stopping for good. But I can't do that. I love it too much. I can't promise I'll be here often, but I do plan on posting at least semi-regularly. A lot has happened over the last year or so, and I'll write a catch up post soon.

However, I felt sharing this recipe with you was much more exciting.

These little chocolate bites are so delicious and nutritious as well! They are packed full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats. I plan on writing more about the health benefits of everything in these, and when I do, I will link them to this post. Just rest assured that they taste good, and you should definitely get to your kitchen and start mixing these up pronto - trust me! I've been swatting my kids away from them just to try and get a picture.

What you need:
1 Cup Coconut Oil
1 Cup Cocoa Powder (preferable not Dutch Process)
1/3 Cup Raw Honey
2 tsp Vanilla extract (gluten free)
1/2 Cup Chocolate Nibs
1/2 Cup Raw Pumpkin Seed Kernels
1/2 Cup Raw Sesame Seeds
1/2 Cup Dried Cranberries (without added sugar)
1/4 Cup + 1 tbsp Dried Goji Berries
Pink Himalayan Sea Salt to taste

1) Start by melting the coconut oil in a small saucepan.

2) Once coconut oil is completely liquified, add cocoa powder, vanilla and honey. Mix until you have a smooth consistency and everything is incorporated. Remove from heat.

3) Now add everything else except the sea salt and mix well.

4) Here you can choose to either spread the entire mixture over a parchment lined baking sheet and place it in the freezer to set, or you can spoon it into silicone molds. Once the chocolate mixture is spread out or the molds are filled, generously sprinkle the sea salt on top. I started with the mold option and instantly regretted it. The end result is by far prettier, however it's messy. One silicone mold held 30 bites and half my mixture, so I took the other half and used the baking sheet method. Unless I'm bringing these to a party or making them for a special occasion, I will probably just stick to the baking sheet.

5) Once your bites are set (about 10 minutes in the freezer), either pop them out of the mold, or if you used the baking sheet method, break them into uniform pieces. I took a large knife and scored the top of the chocolate to make my bites more uniform in size.

I store these in the fridge because they melt quickly. Because everything in these is fairly shelf stable, they should last in the fridge until they are all eaten up.

Give them a try and let me know what you think!