Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Meal Planning

Saving on your food bill isn't all about coupons - its also about shopping wisely and pre-planning. If you can plan meals around what is on sale or if you have extra freezer space and can buy when things are on sale and freeze for later then you can probably save money. You can also save money when you cook more things from scratch or cook extra food in advance and save for a future date (notice I said money and not always time - though if you watch meatless Monday you will find some quick recipes that are also mostly from scratch).

For meal planning, the best tip I have is to make or buy a cheap weekly calendar (shows Sun-Sat in whatever order you want based on the day you shop - we usually shop on Sunday and so ours usually starts there). Another tip is to do your meal planning after the weekly adds come out - in our area that is Tues - and plan meals around what is on sale. If certain vegetables are in season they are likely to be on sale so now is the time to cook with them. If you visit a farmers market or cook from a CSA farmers box you might wait to see what you get from there and then plan your meals around those vegetables. I also always make sure that Monday's meal is really quick or leftovers because I know it is garbage and bath night and so I want us to eat fast.... I will also often plan for a fish meal on Monday or a day I know I can leave early to pick up the fish at a market because I know it should be eaten that day. Spaghetti or Chili is great for Friday or Saturday because the ground meat can be frozen and then thawed (so it won't sit in the fridge all week or so I can buy more of it the weeks it is on sale).
Planning out your meals means you will only shop for the food items you need (just because you have a coupon doesn't mean you need it - stick to what you need either now or something you are planning in advance for). Shop, then post the meal plan on the fridge so you know what you are making each night. We also always keep a list for the next week right next to it so when we use up something that is a staple (like eggs) we add it right to the list.

I recently read in this article "cut your food bill by 25%" that "roughly 25% of the food Americans buy goes to waste. That's about one pound of food, per American, per day -- thrown in the trash." So, be sure to count for leftover days or plan to take extras for lunch. Also, if you have extra items in your pantry that are just sitting around use the web to search for meals that use those ingredients - why leave money on the shelf. The same goes for your freezer - make it a game to see if you can use up something that has been in there for a month rather than throw it out at the next spring cleaning. Then, be sure you are always meal planing and using up your fresh ingredients so nothing goes in the garbage.
I would love to know how you plan your grocery trips or other tips you have for eliminating food waste!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Saving With Every Wipe

I don't know when it started for us but certainly having kids makes you realize that you can go through napkins and paper towels really fast. Those pennies really add up and it isn't so hot on the environment either. When my older was little we bought some cloth napkins and hand towels and started re-using... but now that we have our second we have really become conscious of how much we use paper products. We don't use paper plates, we use cloth wipes with our cloth diapers and recently picked up more cloth napkins at Goodwill for meal times. Our new goal is to make our few rolls of paper towels we have left last the next six months. What other things do you use to save money on paper products (and save the waste in the trash too)?

Meatless Monday - Don't Forget the Legumes!

Ah, legumes. These little guys are often overlooked due to the perception of complexity to cook them. My first memory of lentils is my mother soaking them and removing their skins before making soup. She declared at that time we'd never eat lentils again. Now, I have since discovered that removing the skins from lentils is not required!

After reading this recipe in the Week magazine, we have been regular consumers of red lentils. I buy them in the bulk food aisle. They are inexpensive, have great flavor and fantastic nutritional value. 1/4 cup uncooked red lentils = 166 calories, <1g fat, 12g protein, 28g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 3mg sodium. Red lentils have had their skins removed and are split, so they cook quickly and evenly. I will often toss them into my homemade soups for extra protein.

So, for us busy parents in the need for a quick and healthy dinner, here is a hearty soup recipe we love. For you Slow Food lovers out there, adding the spices to the hot pan is really something to savor. Add a little cayenne pepper if you like to kick things up a bit.


3 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion - diced
2 cloves garlic - minced
1 large carrot - chopped small
2 T tomato paste
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 qt vegetable broth
2 C water
1 C red lentils
juice 1/2 lemon
3 T chopped cilantro

In a large pot, heat oil. Add onion and garlic. Saute until golden.Add tomato paste and spices. Saute 2 minutes longer. Stirring constantly.Deglaze with broth. Add remaining broth, water, lentils, and carrot. Simmer partially covered, for 30 minutes.

Use your immersion blender and puree. We like ours smooth. The recipe called for it chunky. Pick your fancy.

Add the lemon juice and cilantro. Serve with your favorite crusty bread and a side salad. Serves four.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Meatless Monday - Getting into a Food Revolution

So here we are at Monday again and this week is tough. I'm headed to a conference this week and so meal planning has been sparse. I actually hate that because it means we aren't being as efficient with our food dollars (reminds me to post about meal planning soon).

To top it off, last night I was up way too late watching a new TV show with Jamie Oliver called the Food Revolution. This show is amazing and just what we needed. A wake up call - we are killing ourselves and we think it is just something we can't change or is too hard to change....His simple statements of asking what ingredients are in something and looking to put real food on the table were so refreshing and the whole section on school lunches was eye opening to say the least.

I'm inspired so I'm linking this week to a vegetarian inspired recipe by Jamie himself and I say bravo to him and his family and ABC for taking this on. I can't wait for next week.

Asparagus frittata with a side of baked new potatoes - this might be a new very simple favorite for us and I can't wait to try it (of course it might be when I return home).

PS if you like this show we used to get a show about the 100 mile food challenge so check it out if you get the channel.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Couponing 101 at the library

FYI - I just spotted this facebook post today from the library. They will be holding a couponing 101 class in 2 Multnomah County Library locations (check the event finder for more details).

I have also now linked to Angela Davis blog to the right who will be teaching the class. I'm not sure if I will be able to make it but I have also asked a friend who is a major coupon clipin' queen to blog soon about how she does it. I will however post here soon about menu planing and how that can help you with savings on your grocery bills.

I'll say it again - I LOVE our libraries!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Birthday Party Planning

Our older daughter is turning 4 the weekend before Earth Day. This couldn't be better timing because we are looking to have a small affordable party and we'll Earth Day certainly makes for a great theme for that :)

So last Sunday we walked to Goodwill (we couldn't drive - it's an earth day theme). I love consignment shopping and we went as a whole family so it was super fun. We scavenged for party supplies like streamers and balloons and small toys to give out to the kids. I found a tie dye t-shirt to cut up and make into goody bags and we browsed the purses, sunglasses, hats, puzzles, books and all sorts of thing for ideas of what to put in the bags. Our best score was some classroom scallop boarder with what else but pictures of EARTH on them that we will make into crowns. We also got found some plant in the bag sunflowers and a flute that got played the entire walk home (yes my husband was a little unhappy with me for that one - maybe the neighbors too).

It was so much fun that we plan to do it again in a few weeks to buy a few more items. Since we have an earth friendly theme we asked attendees to look for alternate ways to get to the party and asked that they forgo the gift giving or bring something home made. I found a nice wooden marble run on craigslist that will be her birthday present (shhh don't tell her) and we are planning a special earth day lunch and craft (I could still use some ideas for the food).

I can't wait - we feel so inspired by our new found shopping fun.

Photo Credit: NASA JSC

Monday, March 15, 2010

Meatless Monday

So it is official... At the end of this month my husband will be a stay-at-home dad with our youngest and our older will eventually be in pre-k part time. This was a big decision for us and we are still working out the financial details and he swears he will help with some tips in that area soon.

What does this have to do with Meatless Monday? Well my sweet husband loves to cook, and now that he is home, he can do what he loves! He has always been the better cook and I think he could be a great chef. He is always experimenting and trying new things. We both meal plan but now that he has been home he has taken over more of the planning and purchasing and coming up with the dinner ideas. His idea for this weeks Meatless Monday is a Panko Breaded Tofu. We usually eat tofu with noddles and or miso soup nearly every week - it is one of our go-to's. Even our older loves cold tofu with soy sauce on it - maybe it is our Asian roots. So tonight he plans to bread and fry up some tofu "nuggets" to add to our rice, edamame, and possible miso soup.

Coming soon - I have several friends telling me all about hearty lentil soups they are making so watch for guest posters to chime in on Meatless Monday's soon. If you have something you want to share just let me know. We are always looking for inexpensive, healthy, and earthy friendly meal ideas that even the kids will love. We are also looking forward to gardening and farmers markets - yes spring is finally here :)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Laundry Day

Thanks in large part to my cloth diapering addiction my laundry day has changed dramatically over the last 6 months. We use a more natural laundry soap (Charlies soap) but I also know it is easy to make your own mix... and we also use vinegar in the rinse cycle for stains and softer. While we have had a few sunny days and a clothesline is on my to-do list for this summer... we are still using the dryer some but we have purchased 4 dryer balls (you can also use tennis balls I hear) which are fist sized plastic spiky balls that bounce your cloths around in the dryer keeping them static free, dry faster, and stay softer while avoiding dryer sheets... plus they are a one time investment, unlike the dryer sheets which you just keep buying up. We tend to use cold water anywhere we can but what I want are tips on keeping my dark colors (black especially) dark...Any tips?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Repair it, Rent it, Borrow it, Share it

Yesterday my husband was so happy to tell me that after a few hours of sweat labor he was able to take apart and repair his bass petal (he is a drummer). He was very happy that he was able to do this because it saved him from having to buy a new one (or find another used one as this one he bought used).

This got me to thinking ... There are the things I just run out and buy (and probably shouldn't) like new cloths, shoes, small kitchen utensils, a carpet shampooer, gardening supplies etc. Then, there are the things I would painstakingly search for to buy used (mostly things for the kids), and yes, there are the things we would rent like a pipe cutter, or maybe even things we buy but share like a carpet shampooer (we also loan this last on out a lot).

But why am I spending more on things I could simply be repairing, fixing up, renting, borrowing, or even loaning so someone else doesn't have to buy it. For example, years ago we gutted our kitchen and did a remodel ourselves. Instead of buying a new refrigerator because it wasn't black and didn't go with everything I had it painted (yes they came to my house and painted it).

Don't get me wrong, I still turn old socks with holes into sock puppets but what is stopping me from fixing or fixing up more of the things I have before just opting for a brand new one (or better one). Even better on the gardening and once-in-a-while use items I should find a place to "rent" them or a neighbor to share them with (I mean do you really need an edger or a pressure washer all to yourself)?

My new goal is rent more items from places like Lowe's and Home Depot. Share more items with my neighbors and friends, and repair more items before I go out and buy a new or used one. It is time for a little more sweat equity to help in my cause to spend and use less!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pre-Loved Fashion

Ok, I admit it - with the changes in the weather I have had the itch to shop but no money to do it. New shoes, things for an upcoming birthday party, clothes - especially cute baby items. But after reading this post on kids clothing and toy swaps I was reminded that I could probably have just as much fun (and not go into debt) if I organized a clothes and toys swap or went to my local Good Will. Actually here in Portland I have frequented many kids consignment stores and rarely by new kids items (so why wouldn't I do this for adult items?). Thanks mostly to my mommy friends I get many items used (for free, or maybe coffee) and what I don't get I can usually find on consignment or Craigslist - but it might be time for a good old fashion More for Less swap around here :)

Anyone interested just let me know! Read the blog post from Green Living Tips above to find out how to organize one yourself. Save money and the planet + stop that shopping itch!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Meatless Monday

This week is about fast, cheap and easy. I LOVE my crock pot. With kids and work (even with one parent at home) there is never enough time to cook. I'll talk later about meal planning but once you become better at meal planning the crock pot can be your best friend. So this weeks Meatless Monday is a crock pot favorite and can be dressed up anyway you like but we make it kid friendly. It is grill cheese (preferably on a light wheat version of our artisan bread) and crock pot potato soup.

If you stick around long enough you will see that I am NOT the cook in the family and I have only a few items in my repertoire that I can make without a recipe. While this was a recipe I downloaded years ago I have cooked it so many times that I can tell you that there is no right or wrong way to make it... So, here goes.

I just buy several russets but dress it up with a sweet potato or maybe a few red potatoes skin and all. I put them chopped in big chunks in the crock pot with some vegetable broth. From here you can add anything you want for flavor.... salt, pepper, rosemary, garlic.. you get the picture. Cook on low all day or on high for 3-4 hours and then you can either mash it up by hand or I use my immersions blender. You can make it baked potato soup with a little cheese and sour cream or stay dairy free and just eat the soup as is. Some hearty toast or like I said we pair it with grill cheese :) mmmmm.... There's this weeks Meatless Monday - cheap and easy (what could be better than cheap potatoes and lots of leftovers).

Friday, March 5, 2010

Cloth Diapering

This may be the first of many posts on cloth diapering but I couldn't do this blog without talking about how much MORE we get out of cloth diapering and how much LESS this is costing us than disposables.

First, let me say that we did not cloth with our older - but - had I know how simple and wonderful it is I certainly would have. For what seems like less than $500 we have diapered our 4 month old since birth and don't plan to spend more than a few hundred more to make it to potty training. This doesn't even take into account how much less garbage we are using (of course we do 3-4 extra very small loads of laundry a week in a very efficient front loader).

One would think this requires a great deal of time and a hearty stomach right? I'm here to tell you that it is so so very simple. If you are thinking about it I highly recommend you take a look at the cloth diaper whisperer (they giveaway a lot of things on their blog too). You basically by a diaper and cover, a diaper sewn into a cover, or a diaper that you stuff into a cover (ok this is maybe oversimplified but you'll get the picture if you read up). You use and wash and if you breastfeed like we do you won't even need to rinse (though we also have a diaper sprayer attached to our toilet too for future use). No more swishing, no more dirty hands, just use, wash, fold, and use again.

Maybe I'm leaving out some tiny details, but I'm telling you it is just this simple. Not to mention how incredibly cute she is in her fluffy bottom (see the picture) and we have had next to nothing for diaper rash or leaks - something we had way too much trouble with on our older in sposies. So if you have little ones in diapers jump in and give cloth a try. The are remarkably addicting and oh you can find lots of used fluff on craigslist and lots of mommy made fluff on ebay and etsy. If you have more questions about cloth feel free to ask!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

play at the zoo or museam a tax deduction?

I have already talked about zoo and museum passes being available from the library but did you know that you memberships to these non-profit organizations are considered tax detectable donations?

In discovering that gifts just give us MORE stuff and what we really want is LESS stuff and MORE fun - we opt each year to make our family gifts to each other membership to the zoo and the children's museum here in Portland (the science museum is equally fun but we are limiting it to two). We enjoy our days there so much more now than toys or other items that would eventually be lost or left unused (as is evident by this recent picture from this weekends outing with friends - see more on our family blog soon).

The added bonus is that if you itemize your tax deductions then donations such as these may actually help you to save MORE! Yea for experiences and fun family days.

This is one example of where I think we pay a little more up front - for lots of cheap family fun throughout the year. Especially now that my husband is officially going to take on a stay-at-home dad role. Something I guess I'll have to get him to blog about soon.