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Category: From My Kitchen

Our $40 menu this week

You can see the groceries we bought this week here for $38. Of course, we're not just using those to make the following meals; many of the ingredients are coming from things we already had in our cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer.

The beauty of bargain-shopping is that stocking up on sales enables you to have a variety of ingredients at your fingertips at all times. With our move and my break from shopping while in my first trimester, our stock was somewhat diminished. However, I'm hoping to quickly replenish it all the while sticking to our grocery budget. Follow along with my shopping trips over the next few weeks to see if I'm able to do that!

BREAKFASTS
Whole wheat waffles (From the freezer–I made a batch of these during breakfast one morning and froze them.), homemade yogurt, grapefruit
Whole wheat toast, scrambled eggs, apple juice
Homemade granola over homemade yogurt with strawberries
Whole wheat pancakes (from the freezer), yogurt, orange juice
Cold cereal, apple juice
Banana muffins (from the freezer), yogurt, strawberries
Fruit smoothies, whole wheat toast

LUNCHES
Mixed green salad with hard-boiled eggs and shredded cheese
Beans and rice with cheese, steamed veggies
PB&J on whole wheat, carrot sticks
Baked potatoes with cheese and broccoli
Egg salad sandwiches on whole wheat, apples
Leftovers
Soup in the crock pot, mixed green salad, whole wheat bread

DINNERS
Lasagna, steamed veggies, whole wheat bread
Snack foods (We're going to an election watch party where food will be served so I'm just feeding the girls some snackie foods before we go to tide them over.)
Taco pie, steamed veggies, grapefruit
Goulash, steamed veggies, whole wheat bread
Meatloaf, cooked carrots, baked potatoes
Dinner out
Leftover (Sunday night)

SNACKS
Yogurt with fruit
Cheese
Banana muffins
Carrot sticks
Apples

Ask the Readers: How do I make a fresh-baked breakfast without spending an hour each morning to do so?

Stephanie emailed me yesterday with this question:

I just read your Baking Day entries. I have a question that I hope you can answer. I see where you are baking things to last for a couple of weeks and was wondering if you have any suggestions about how to save time when someone like me has a very picky husband and 15-year-old son who only like fresh stuff (pancakes, muffins, etc.)?

Do you have any suggestions on how to make my "fresh baked" things any more time-saving? Would the pancake batter or muffin batter still taste the same if I refrigerated it the night before and just put it in the oven the next morning at 4:30 a.m. (my husband leaves for work at 5:30 a.m.)?

First off, I'd encourage you to perhaps discuss with your husband/son the possibility of making some fresh stuff and some frozen and re-heated stuff each week. Maybe that's not an option, but maybe you could come to a happy medium that works for everyone?

Secondly, there are many batter recipes which can be prepared ahead of time, refrigerated, and then used in the morning. I'd experiment with some of your favorite muffin, pancake, waffle, and french toast batter recipes and see how they work. You might even try make a double batch up and using it for two mornings. (See some muffins recipes here to get started with ideas.)

Other recipes which work well being made ahead of time and refrigerated overnight are coffee cakes, french toast, and breakfast casseroles. You might also consider using your crockpot.

To further speed up the preparation of these recipes the night before,
if you have a block of 30 minutes sometime, you might consider putting
together baking mixes with the dry ingredients from your favorite
muffin, pancake, coffee cake, and waffle recipes. If you know you like the recipe
and you'll be making it a lot, you might as well mix up a bunch to have
on hand!

Personally, if I were in your shoes and my husband left for work at 5:30 a.m., I'd likely come up with a plan where some mornings we'd do cold cereal, some mornings we'd do toast and eggs, some mornings we'd do something like waffles or coffeecake that I'd made up the night before. This way, we'd be having a nice variety of breakfasts–some which were fresh-baked–but I wouldn't have to get up an hour ahead of time or more to get them on the table!

Those are just a few of my ideas, I'd love to hear other readers' helpful input on Stephanie's question. Perhaps some of you are in a similar situation and can give some practical advice as to what has worked for you? Or if you have any delicious recipes which can be made overnight and refrigerated, please do share those as well!

Baking Day – Part 4

The beans and rice are cooled and divided into bags, the pancake mix is made to have on hand for later, the two packages of chicken breasts are boiled and diced and frozen, and the double batch of whole wheat pancakes is finished and in the freezer. And whew! I'm wiped! I poured myself a glass of orange juice and made
myself a fruit salad and I'm putting my feet up until Kaitlynn's nap time is over.

Here's the end result of all of our baking/cooking/kitchen work:

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It really doesn't look like all that much, but having the makings of a number of breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners already on hand and in the freezer is so helpful. If you've never tried baking ahead or cooking up meat and freezing it, I'd highly encourage you to test it out. You might find, like me, that it's a huge time-saver, money-saver, and life-saver.

There were a number of questions left in the comments section of the Baking Day posts, many which were answered by other commentors. However, I wanted to specially answer two of them since they were directed at me:

Oooo, I hope you post about the
pot of beans. It sounds silly, but I haven't a clue how to soak and
cook beans, and then how to incorporate them into yummy recipes. I'd
sure love to learn, because it sounds a LOT cheaper (and more
healthful) to not use canned beans for everything.-Katy


To be honest, it's not hard so don't be intimidated! I just take a bag of beans, dump it in a big pot, run water over it and swish it around, then drain the water. I refill the pot with enough water to cover the beans and put them on the stove to boil.

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Once they boil, I turn the stove down to medium heat or so–enough to keep them going at a soft boil. As the water evaporates, I add more. Every 30 minutes or so, I check them to see if they're doing yet and continue to add water as needed. I just keep boiling them until they are cooked and then let them cool and fill bags with them. If you like, you can add a few teaspoons salt to them while they are boiling.

I use these in Mexican recipes, in soups, when we have beans and rice and cheese for lunch, or in some of our other favorite bean recipes.

I really do try to involve my kids in kitchen stuff,
and it worked pretty well after my first turned 2. But how can you
manage to be so productive with a 1-year-old around? When I cook dinner
each night, my 1-year-old often tears the house apart. So yeah, I got
something done, but I have to spend just as long after wards cleaning
up. Do you use a playpen? My 4-year-old would be a good helper during
ONE of these projects, but she would lose interest after that and start
fighting with her sister instead or (if I'm lucky) go off and read or
play by herself.

Well, I think the real answer is that Kaitlynn is only 16 months old and she still takes two naps each day–that's usually when I get the most work done here! She is a very busy little girl when she's awake so I must always be near her to make sure she stays safe and nothing catastrophic happens!

This morning, while she wasn't napping, I had her playing in the kitchen with some different toys and objects I gave to her. I also gave her a snack and that kept her preoccupied for awhile. But things did get a little messy–which I fully expected.

Kathrynne (3 1/2), on the other hand, is usually a great help to me. This morning, she helped with watching Kaitlynn, picking up toys, dicing chicken (with a plastic knife, of course!), and making pancakes. With some training and practicing, she's learning to be a real asset to me–which I'm definitely going to need once baby #3 is here!

When Kathrynne wasn't helping me today, I gave her some special things to play with/work on nearby including foil (this is one of her very favorite things in the world to play with!), and crayons and scissors and glue which she used at the kitchen table for a very long time.

My biggest advice to young moms out there is to make sure that you put your children as the most important priority in your day. Expect that your home will look lived in and you will get less done when little ones are underfoot; it's a fact of life!

I've had to learn to lower my expectations a lot since having children. I'd rather get a lot less done in the day and have invested quality time with my children, than have gotten a huge, long to-do list done and neglected my family in the process. They are only little once and I never want to forget that fact!

By the way, if you have little ones and are struggling with how to "do it all", I love the advice given by Jennie Chancey (mom to many little ones) here. Her words and thoughts have been a real blessing and help to me in navigating this incredible (and sometimes overwhelming!) task of mothering!

Baking Day – Part 3

Your "participation" through comments and emails is making this Baking Day so much more fun! Thanks for joining me! I just finished up making the banana muffins, boiling the pot of beans, cooking the brown rice, and freezing the bananas.

While I had banana bread on the list, I opted for banana muffins at the last minute. Guess it was due to a mood change? 🙂 At any rate, I'm really happy with how the muffins turned out. I used a whole wheat banana bread mix some friends had made up for us along with the organic bananas I bought marked down yesterday.

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I substituted applesauce for oil to cut down on the fat and they turned out beautifully. Plus, they don't have any sugar in them–the mashed bananas serve as the sweetener. These will make for a perfect afternoon snack or quick breakfast.

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I boiled the pot of beans and cooked the brown rice while I was working on these. Both of these need a bit more cooking time and then they'll be done. Once cooled, I'll portion them into bags and stick them in the freezer for easy lunch or dinner additions.

Next, it was time to freeze the bananas. Any time I can get a great deal on bananas, I buy as many as I can afford in our grocery budget and then we eat what we can and freeze the rest. Chopped frozen bananas are wonderful added into fruit smoothies or you can freeze the bananas whole and thaw later for use in baking.

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I'm planning to use these bananas in smoothies, so I chopped them and put them on cookie sheet and stuck them in the freezer. As soon as they are frozen, I'll transfer them to a bag to use as needed.

Now I'm off to make pancakes, bran muffins, and hopefully cook up some meat.

Baking Day – Part 2

Just finished up my first two projects: making homemade yogurt and granola.

I've made yogurt before, but never in a yogurt maker so this was a new adventure. A kind reader gave me a yogurt maker she didn't want any more so Kathrynne and I had fun testing it out for the first time. So far, I really liked it as compared to making it without a maker, though I wouldn't necessarily encourage everyone to go get yourself a yogurt maker unless you have access to one for free. 🙂

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We used the marked-down Horizon Organic milk I picked up yesterday and some other marked-down milk we had in the freezer along with one little carton of vanilla yogurt as the starter. The basic recipe is that you boil the milk until bubbles form on the side of the pan, let it cool to 110 degrees, take out a little and mix it with the yogurt starter, mix it all back together, and pour it into the yogurt cups in the yogurt maker and let it run for 8-12 hours.

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When I make it without the yogurt maker, I do everything the same except for putting the yogurt in a bowl covered in a warm oven overnight. It's best to use plain yogurt as a starter, but I couldn't find any small things of it at the store yesterday so I fudged and got vanilla. We'll see how it works!

The granola recipe is a new healthy one I got from What to Eat When You're Expecting. It didn't look terribly exciting but it was very healthful and that's what I was looking for so I decided I was game.

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Here's the recipe, with my tweaking:

Great Granola (Makes 5 cups)

3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons apple juice concentrate
3/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup wheat bran (I added this instead of nuts, if you like nuts you could use them instead.)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Spread oats in nonstick pan and toast in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 300 degrees.

Combine the raisins and 1/2 cup of the juice concentrate in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Drain the raisin liquid over the oats (set raisins aside) and add remaining ingredients. Combine well with a wooden spoon. Bake in 300-degree oven for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in raisins and press the mixture firmly in the pan. Bake another 5 minutes and let cool to room temperature.

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I doubled the recipe because I had enough ingredients on hand. I wasn't incredibly impressed with this granola recipe, though I think it will be yummy with served over homemade yogurt with some fruit. If anyone out there has a particularly yummy recipe for granola which doesn't have sugar in it and is low in fat, I'd love to try it.

And now I'm off to make banana bread and start cooking a big pot of beans.

Baking Day – Part 1

One of the ways we save a lot of money on our grocery bill is by cooking and baking from scratch. However, lest you think I spend hours every day slaving in the kitchen, let me tell you, I don't. Instead, I like to take one day every few weeks and bake/cook up a bunch of stuff to freeze.

In half a day or less, I can cook/bake up enough goods to last us for two weeks or more–saving us a lot of time and money in the process. And it's so nice to have our freezer stocked and ready for use at a moment's notice to pull off a quick and easy breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Today, just for fun, I thought I'd let you peek in on a somewhat-typical baking day at our house. I'll be sharing pictures and recipes

First off, I start out with a plan. I took inventory of what we already have on hand and made a list of things I could make based upon that. The goal here is to save money, so it's all about creatively using what I already have on hand.

I went through our cupboards and refrigerator last night and came up with this simple list which I've posted up on the refrigerator:

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If I have extra energy, there are a few more things I'd like to make, but we'll see how the day progresses.