Friday, July 11

Eating Well on a Budget Series - Part 5 - Avoiding Waste

A huge part of keeping food costs down is to not be wasteful.

I'm going to make the wild assumption that most of us do not consider ourselves wasteful. It's a relative term, and surely there are people who waste more than I do, just as there are many people who do not waste nearly as much as I do. The same can be said for you as well. I do believe it would be safe to say we could all be a little bit better at not wasting our food.

According to , 40% of the food in the U.S. is wasted. That's not only heartbreaking, it's also expensive.

I do my best to clean out our refrigerator once a week. My goal for each of these sessions is to be able to clean my fridge without having to throw anything out. I find myself making a lot of lunches each week that consist of little bits of this and little bits of that. It may not be exactly what I'm desiring at that given moment, but I think that's a good habit to form. There are very few places across the globe where people can eat exactly what they want, when they want and how they want it. We are fortunate enough to live in one of those few places and it's nice to be reminded of that and appreciate it from time to time. Don't get me wrong, I believe food should be enjoyed, and the process of eating should be a shared event whenever possible.

An added bonus to not wasting food is less garbage. In our community, we pay for garbage pick up and have a choice of either paying a flat monthly fee or per bag. When we first moved here, we figured out that we would save money every month in garbage pick up if we were able to keep our waste to one bag per week. It's not a huge savings, I estimate over the last 10 years it has saved us about $800 total. But it's more than just saving a few dollars, it's also leaving a smaller footprint on the earth. We have successfully been able to maintain that one bag of trash a week goal, even with the birth of three children and the addition of a few pets over the years. Sometimes we only have one bag every other week.

If you do your best to only buy what you need, and to use up every little scrap of what you have, you will likely be rewarded with extra money in your pocket.

Here are a few ways to avoid extra waste...
  • Freeze your vegetable scraps until you fill up a gallon sized bag and then use to make soup stock.
  • Use your coffee grounds as an exfoliant for your skin, or use them in your garden. Here's a link.
  • Save the heel of your loaves of bread in the freezer. You can use them to make bread pudding, bread crumbs, or croutons once you have enough.
  • If you're making a recipe that uses only egg whites, save the yolks and make something like lemon curd or a custard.
  • Save the whey that separates from your yogurt by pouring it into a container with the date written on top. Keep adding the little bits of it to that same container until the expiration date on the original package has been reached or up to two weeks for homemade yogurts. You can use this for fermenting, or add it to smoothies, or in place of some of the water in bread recipes.
  • Blanch and then freeze veggies before they turn if you won't use them up fast enough.
  • Chop up and freeze fruit before it turns if you won't use it up fast enough.
  • Save and freeze the small scraps of meat that are not enough for another meal, to use in a casserole or fried rice.
  • When you make a pie crust, save the discarded bits, sprinkle with a little cinnamon and sugar and bake them for the kids to snack on as a treat.
  • Experiment with different homemade granolas to use up nuts, seeds and dried fruits that have been hiding in the cabinet for too long.
This by no means covers everything you can do to save on waste, every family is different and uses different things. I would love to hear of some creative ways you use up what you have to avoid waste.
Have a great day!

Thursday, July 3

Strawberries and Cream Yogurt Popsicles

I've found myself in a mad dash to use up all those strawberries I told  you about the other day. Unlike store bought, these only last a couple days. I really didn't want to just freeze them because I let them sit too long in our refridgerator already. So, with Austin gone at boyscout camp, the girls and I had fun playing around with new recipes. Some were really, really good, and some, well, not so much.

I think the favorite of our new found recipes had to be these frozen fruit pops. They taste great and really are a breeze to put together. In fact, my kids loved them so much, they asked to have them for breakfast. My first knee-jerk reaction was a giant NO. Then it dawned on me that they were only pureed fruit, and a bit of juice. Not much different than a smoothie. Needless to say, I let them have popsicles for breakfast and I was declared "The greatest mom in the world". My only qualm with these, is that even though they are all fruit, and fruit is healthy, it is still sugar. So to reduce the potential blood sugar spikes and energy crashes, I've added some fat and protein. Below is a recipe for our own strawberries and cream popsicle. They are so good, you almost forget they're actually healthy.

I think popsicle smoothies may become our summer breakfast of choice.

Strawberries and Cream Yogurt Pop's

What you need:

1 Cup plain yogurt (or canned coconut milk if you want it dairy free)
1 Cup quartered strawberries
1 Tbsp Raw Honey (or more to taste)


Potato masher
Popsicle mold
2 Large spoons

1) Mix the raw honey with the yogurt until completely blended.

2) In a separate bowl, mash the strawberries.

3) With one large spoon, put one full spoonful of yogurt mixture into the bottom of each pop mold. With your other large spoon, put one full spoonful of mashed strawberry mixture into each pop mold. Continue in this fashion until each mold is filled.

4) Follow directions for your specific popsicle mold. Mine goes right in the freezer and we left them there over night.

If you substitute a layer of mashed blueberries, these become a super cute and healthy 4th of July treat.

Have a great holiday weekend!

Wednesday, July 2

Eating Well On A Budget Series - Part 4 - Freezing

I really hope part 3 wasn't too overwhelming - or discouraging. I know I threw a lot out there. I also know that my pantry is not the norm (well pseudo pantry, I actually don't have one and use the laundry cabinet shelf and a couple shelves in my basement). You could easily spend $1,000 a month feeding a family of five the way I choose to feed mine, which is why budgeting, planning and freezing became so important to me. What is best for my family, may not be best for yours, or maybe it would be - it doesn't really matter. I would like to assume as a parent and an adult, we serve meals we all feel are healthy most of the time.

My main objective was not to say you need to buy all that food and store all those items to stay on a budget. In fact, going out and buying all that stuff would probably eat away a few months budget all in itself. Everything I listed are things I buy, but definitely don't go out and buy them every month. If by chance you do use some of the same food items I do, maybe one of the sources I listed is less expensive and can free up some money in your budget. That was the purpose behind the resource post.

Regardless of how you choose to eat, or any special diets you need to adhere to, I do believe following the ideas in this series will save you some money assuming you are not already implementing them.

Now, on to my favorite part - freezing!

I seriously love my freezer. Without it, I would either be a stressed out, frazzled mom without time to do much else but cook, or I would be ordering a lot of take out. I currently have a separate upright freezer that is stored in our garage, however I have been successfully freezing and reaping the benefits for years prior to owning that large freezer.

Don't throw in the towel if you don't have a ton of freezer space, you likely don't need it unless you plan on purchasing a large amount of meat to store (which is exactly why we bought it). I have a friend who could run circles around my budget, she freezes ALL the time and she only has a basic refrigerator/freezer combo. Her secret is keeping it organized and cleaning it out regularly. This way she never forgets what she has and nothing ever goes to waste. She has helped me immensely over the years and I am forever grateful. If you do decided you want to invest in a large freezer, check craigslist and your local paper for used ones in good condition.

We talked about freezing a bit in the planning portion of this series. Making double recipes and freezing the second batch for another quick meal. Again, hands down, I believe this is a huge part of sticking to a budget and being able to have homemade healthy meals on a regular basis while avoiding burn out. I had to figure that one out the hard way.

Here's a quick list of ways to save money using your freezer:
  • Put peeled over-ripe bananas in the freezer to use for smoothies, to dip in melted chocolate, make dairy-free 5 minute ice cream, or to thaw out later for a bread/muffin recipe.
  • Make the largest batches you can of your favorite recipes to keep on hand for busy nights or mornings.
  • Buy extra amounts of fresh vegetables at the farmers market, blanch and then freeze them for future use.
  • Potatoes are another favorite to freeze. Buy a huge bag when they go on sale and you can make then freeze mashed potatoes, hash-browns, potato skins with bacon and cheese (left over from the mashed), potato wedges, home-fries and twice baked potatoes.
  • Stocks - When we cook meat with bones, we either add the bones to a bag in the freezer for future stock-making once it's filled, or if we just cooked a chicken, we put the carcass in the stockpot right away to simmer overnight. If I don't make soup the following day, I'll freeze what I have.
  • Cheese freezes so well, as long as you don't pack it too tight in the container. I buy an $8 block of cheddar that yields about 12 cups of shredded cheese. My husband or I will shred the whole thing at once, divide it up among freezer containers and then just pull out what we need when we need it. The best part about cheese is that even if you forget to pull it out and put it in the fridge ahead of time, it thaws so fast it really doesn't matter.
  • Onions are great to freeze. I just chop off the ends, peel the skins and then put them in the freezer whole. The best part about this is chopping a frozen onion will never make you cry.
  • Reducing waste by freezing. An entire post needs to be written about this one, and that post will be the final segment in this series.
Remember, you can't do it all at once. Take a few ideas and implement them bit by bit. They will turn into habits and you won't even notice them anymore. Once you have a new habit ingrained (and this requires commitment), that is when you should add more. As I've said before, this has been a long journey for me, almost 10 years. I still have room to grow and learn.