Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Family Fun on a Budget

We aren't really big Easter people.  Some years, my MIL will send a basket.  Some years, my husband will make a basket.  This year, we did neither.

Yesterday we went to the Easter egg hunt at the park up the hill.  Parking is $5 and many of our friends went.  They divide it up by age group.  Because we live 0.5 miles away, we walked, so we saved the parking fee.  We only spent $1 on some cotton candy.  Our son found 10 eggs.

Easter egg hunts are very popular at the 5+ age group.  Two years ago, we were camping in Joshua Tree with the neighbors.  My husband hid plastic eggs Easter morning and the 3 kids had a BLAST searching for them.  We hid and found them 15 times that morning.  Of course, sometimes they were hidden in pokey bushes and it was hard to retrieve them.  We followed this up by hiding them at home a bunch of times too.  So it's an Easter tradition to hide eggs.  (On a side note?  Right now my 7 year old is standing behind me reading my post!)

The 8.5 month old likes chasing them around too.

This was a budget year for Easter.  I did buy a little bit of candy, but not too much.

We dyed easter eggs:
18 eggs: $2.69
1 Paas dye kit: $1.99
Total: $4.68

We also hid plastic eggs (we are using the same eggs we've had for 4 years, plus the ones he found yesterday at the egg hunt).  I think we have 20.  We hid 19.
Plastic eggs: $0
Money to put in the eggs: $2.50 ($1 for the golden egg, plus 6 quarters)
Candy for the rest of the eggs (12 pieces): $2.50
Total: $5 (only because I bought a whole bag of candy.  Probably could have bought it in bulk for cheaper).
My friend Sarah uses the plastic eggs to make a treasure hunt that leads them to their baskets.  That's a pretty cool idea too.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Kale and Quinoa salad

A friend brought this salad to a meeting, and it was SOO good I had to make it.  I adjusted it the same way she had (lemon juice/zest instead of preserved lemons, almonds, and a different type of vinegar).  It was really good.  Not quite as good as hers, but still really good.  I hope to make this often.  Usually, I just make kale chips (they are in the oven right now!!)

We had this one night with baked lemon chicken that was cooked on a bed of vegetables.

Then I found this recipe for almond raspberry coffee cake in the latest Taste of Home magazine.  It was actually a recipe in an advertisement, not the actual magazine.  But I made it and it was yummy!  Husband liked it.

Tomorrow is Easter!  We'll be cooking up a ham.  We enjoyed some time this week (it was Spring Break) at Knott's Berry Farm.  Sadly, Los Angeles traffic SUX and we spent 3 hours getting there and 4 hours getting back for a 2 hour drive. Blech.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Happy St. Patty's Day!

I do love a good meal of Corned Beef and Cabbage.  Last year I didn't cook any because I was pregnant and had no energy.  This year I was nursing and had no energy...and there was that birthday party for my seven year old to pull off.

But I can't walk away from a good sale.  While cabbage was 39 cents a pound this week, I didn't buy any - we had WAY too many greens from the CSA, there simply wasn't room.  As it is, I didn't even finish the collards, carrots, beets, or turnips from the week.  I did buy a single package of corned beef.  I have this GREAT recipe for corned beef from a cooking class that I took.  At least, I think I still have it somewhere.  It involves boiling the corned beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes and onions, then tossing the vegetables with a horseradish butter sauce.  The beef is then roasted with a mustard brown sugar glaze.

Yeah, I didn't have time for that.  But on Tuesday, I put the corned beef in the crockpot with some leftover chopped onion that came with the sandwiches for the birthday party, and a bunch of leftover baby carrots from the veggie tray.  I didn't have beer so I used water. 

It was pretty tasty.  Not awesome, but okay.  Didn't make very much though.

As far as the rest of the Irish dinner...I've been hankering for some Irish soda bread.  I got home early enough today that I decided to give it a try.  It was tough going because I had to bake the bread, make 2 batches of kale chips, then bake the chicken fingers...dinner was a bit late but it made it to the table about 20-30 mins after normal time.  So I got my Irish on, but on different days.  By the way, my ancestors are mostly German.

Next up: easter.  Ham is on sale...probably will buy one this weekend.  The rest of the week will be full of greens...collards (2 bunches), kale (2 bunches), lettuce, spinach...leafy leafy!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Today you eat Darth Vader's Face!

My husband makes a mean cake, I tell you.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Birthday party prep!

Well, it's been a long-ass week.  The baby is teething like crazy and the big boy turned 7!  So it was a shitty week of sleep (3 nights of basically no sleep because of teething), then two days of plugged milk ducts (because the only way I could get the baby to sleep was to nurse him) = a really awful week.  On top of that the big boy had a sore throat the night before his birthday and has been tired and cranky all week.

So what is my cooking prep this week?  Nothing!  Seriously.  I walked a breast cancer walk this morning with the baby in the stroller.  We are going to be baking cupcakes for the 7 year old's birthday party tomorrow.  Tonight we are at a different birthday party (husband did the shopping while I was walking with the baby).  We tend to overdo it on food.  We've ordered sandwiches, but husband also got snacks and veggies. The party is at the YMCA - simple, because it's an hour in the pool, an hour in the kids' gym, and an out in the party room.  But it's not frugal unless you are comparing it to some crazy-ass stuff.  Pretty much any party around here is going to set you back 200 bucks minimum.

Anyway, I'll be lucky to get any prep work for the week done at all.  I figure there will be leftovers tomorrow, so I won't need to cook either night.  But I still will have to figure out what to do with the greens, turnips, carrots, etc from the CSA.  I'll have to wing it I guess.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Time vs. Money vs. Health

I'm not sure why I've been thinking about this the last few days.  Perhaps because I heard it on the radio or read it on the internet.  Perhaps because I don't have very much time. Perhaps because I'm trying to keep my family healthy (but on a budget).  Perhaps that I keep reading about how expensive it is to eat healthfully (note: it can be, but isn't always...)

I think that there's a give and take among all three.

I want to eat healthfully. I read blogs such as "100 Days of Real Food" and "Clean Eating".  I try my best to feed my family healthy food. I am inspired by the homemade, frugal, and healthy foods you find on "Penniless Parenting" and "The Prudent Homemaker".

But here's a little tidbit (which comes to no surprise to most of you): I have a job.  And two kids.  And I'm breastfeeding (which means I spend a HUGE part of the day with a baby or machine attached, not to mention the time spent washing and sterilizing bottles and pump parts.  Can I say - I am SOOOO over it.)

I really would love to go "cold turkey" on the processed food.  But that can take a lot of effort and time...that I don't have.  However, I *do* try to minimize it.  The tricks I have to do this are pretty simple:

1.  Change WHAT you eat
2.  Change HOW you shop

Let's go through a few examples.

Example #1: Breakfast
Option 1: Homemade oatmeal. Frugal factor: great.  Health factor: good. Time factor: medium. 
Option 2: Homemade bread.  Frugal factor: great.  Health factor: good (depends on what you put on it).  Time factor: higher than oatmeal, because you have to make the bread and it needs toppings.
The toppings can make or break you here: butter, homemade jam, peanut butter, almond butter, cheese, eggs.
Option 3: Homemade granola.  Frugal factor: medium (it's the nuts).  Health factor: medium (depends on what you put on it).  Time factor: medium (you have to make it).
Option 4: Cold cereal.  Frugal factor: medium to low.  Health factor (varies).  Time factor: great.

Lately, I've been going with option #4. We eat Kellogg's Raisin Bran and buy it at the big box store.  We get 4 lb for about $9 and it lasts two weeks.  That means that breakfast for the adults costs $18 every 4 weeks, plus the cost of milk (which is about 12 oz per day).  It's processed.  But you's easy and not too bad for  you.  The ingredients list is rather small.  So trick #1: I choose a cereal that has fewer ingredients and #2 I buy it in bulk.

Example #2: Snacks
Option #1: Salty snacks: pretzels, crackers, chips.  Buy them.  Frugal factor: poor. Health factor: poor.  Time factor: great.
Option #2: Salty snacks: make your own.  Frugal factor: great.  Health factor: bad to good, depending on what you put in them.  Time factor: poor.  I keep thinking about trying to make my own crackers.  I just...don't.
Option #3: Salty snacks: eat nuts.  And, low salt or no salt if you can.  You still get the crunch.
Option #4: Salty snacks: eat baby carrots and storebought hummus.
Option #5: Make your own hummus and make carrot sticks.
Option #6: Sweet snack: Buy yogurt cups - expensive and they usually have sugar
Option #7: Sweet snack: Buy big tubs of yogurt (plain) and add fruit - healthier but a little bit more labor intensive
Option #8: Sweet snack: Make you own yogurt - much cheaper but a lot more work.

Almost any time you are going to try and save money by "making your own", you are going to add time.  Almost any time you are going to try and get healthier by making your own snacks, you are going to add time. If you want to SAVE time by buying healthier snacks, you are going to pay more.  So my method: Trick #1: I choose to eat plain, unprocessed foods.  Trick #2: When possible, buy in bulk (I buy carrots in the 2lb bag).

If you are living a life right now of unhealthy processed food and want to get to less processed food, I think it's useful to try and do it slowly.

As much as I'd love to make my own crackers, it just isn't happening. So I buy a box of crackers now and then, and I buy a tub of hummus and a 2lb bag of carrots every week.

I peel and cut my own carrot sticks.  And MOST of my snacks are carrots and hummus, plain yogurt and fruit, nuts, and plain fruit.  I'd LOVE to eat fruit, pineapple, strawberries.  You know what I do eat?  Apples, bananas, and tangerines from my tree.  Frozen mango or blueberries in my yogurt.

The advantage to this is that it's REALLY easy to throw 3 pieces of fruit into my bag in the morning. Yeah, it's a bit more work to make carrot sticks out of a pound of carrots (which doesn't even last two days).  But they taste better than baby carrots. 

I'd also LOVE to eat composed salads of many ingredients.  What do I actually eat?  Lettuce, olive oil, vinegar, and whatever else is around (olives, cheese, fruit, nuts).

I'd LOVE to shop around for the best price on quality produce...broccoli when it goes on sale for $1 a pound, asparagus for $2 a pound.  What do I really eat?  The pre-cut broccoli florets from Trader Joe's at $2.29 for 12 ounces.  I microwave for a few minutes, and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Weekends are spent making a bunch of big meals (from scratch, and from the CSA produce).  Weekdays, when we run out of produce, it's on to the frozen vegetables and whatever I pre-made over the weekend.

I COULD be eating more frugally.  I COULD be eating more healthfully.  I COULD be eating more simply.  But I have to balance the three.  My husband teases me that sometimes I seem to be trying to eat local, organic, on a budget, and all from scratch...well, I DID try to do that before baby #2 came along.  NOW, I don't even bother.  I've given in at breakfast with the boxed cereal, but I am now sticking to fruit and vegetables and nuts for snacks.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Another beautiful weekend

Don't hate me, it was in the 80s this weekend.

I'm really getting into this whole "weekend cooking prep" thing.  However, I'm not really getting into the "taking pictures of my food" thing.  Not that my photos were any great shakes when I did remember.  We've been busy child-proofing, since the baby can now get places pretty fast with his army crawl.  Bedroom and bathroom doors stay closed, need to pull out the baby gates.

We even went out for our first real family dinner out.  It was fun!  We'd been at the park and I didn't feel like making my preplanned dinner.  However, we barely survived the aftermath.  Baby was up too late, his meal times were off...he woke at 12:30 am.  Then I was up for 1.5 hours afterwards (he wasn't, I just have insomnia...)  And he woke again at 5 am.  So...a 3 hour stretch of sleep...not so good. Ah well, I'll survive. 

We ate at California Pizza Kitchen.  I have a love affair with their Moroccan Chicken Salad.  And hummus.  I'm striving to eat more Mediterranean these days...with the recent heart disease results.  I have a great cookbook (written by a friend of mine). 

Thus, this week's menu does resemble Mediterranean...trying to get more fish.

Tilapia with lemon and olive oil and capers
Roasted vegetables (onion, fennel, asparagus, beets, romanesco)
Mediterranean chickpeas and rice
Hummus and carrots

That's about it.  I'm sure I'll be thoroughly sick of all of it by the weekend!