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A Different Green Smoothie

A Different Green Smoothie

After making enough food to satisfy the stomachs of six starving tiny humans I often don’t feel like eating the same thing or don’t feel like investing more time to make food for myself. Smoothies are a simple way for me to pack in nutrients without spending a lot of extra time in the kitchen.

Here’s what I had this morning:

Here’s what was in it:

3/4 cup plain, homemade yogurt
1 tsp maple syrup
Splash of vanilla
1/8 tsp spirulina powder
1 raw egg yolk
1 Tbls coconut oil

I find it helpful to add ingredients while the blender is on (especially when you add the coconut oil).

It is filling, it is healthy, a little tart and it is tasty. I feel a boost of energy after drinking this in the morning. Something I desperately need to continue chasing my children for the rest of the day! Sometimes I add frozen fruit for fun. Give it a try! Note: if you’re going to attempt the raw egg yolk, be sure to research your egg source carefully first. I actually buy a specific brand of egg just for the purpose of eating raw; I wouldn’t do this with just any egg. Hopefully, I’ll be able to use the eggs we get from our new little flock of hens later this year!

What are your fast and healthy breakfast favs?

Left-over Oatmeal

Left-over Oatmeal

Coffee in the mornings.

Sweet smell of – (fill in the blank).

Days like this…summer colors in full bloom…the innocence of childhood…wearing sandals on the beach, leggings are my best friend, blah, blah, blah…

You know what? You clicked on this because you were interested in how I used my left-over oatmeal, not to hear how amazing pumpkin spice is or how much I love that my brown leather boots go with EVERYTHING (except that they really do and that’s pretty cool…).

I’ll get to the point.

THE RECIPE

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, mix together all the following ingredients:

1 cup cooked, left-over oatmeal
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 egg
1 mashed banana
¼ cup melted butter
2 cups almond flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbls flax seed
¼ cup chopped walnuts

Grease up a baking sheet or line with parchment paper. Using a ¼ cup, scoop up some batter and plop onto the baking sheet in little mounds. Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges are looking a tad brownish and the middles do not look wet.

I’m not even going to give you a million photos to drool over. Just these two. BOOM.

Hope you try it!

Pregnancy update: Week 38

Pregnancy update: Week 38

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It is officially the beginning of the beginning of the end!

My remaining weeks of constant Braxton hicks throughout the day are in full-swing. The nesting urges feel stronger than ever. Every time I mention with a thrill of exhilaration what seemingly necessary task I’ve completed (‘cause, you know, I’m sure the baby needs to have the basement clean and the car vacuumed excessively), my dear husband shakes his head and sighs “oh great, baby is coming tonight…” While I could certainly hope that this baby might make an early appearance, I’ve yet to have a child show up before their estimated due date. Once we waited nearly two and a half extra weeks for one baby, an experience I don’t want to totally rule out!

For the time being, I’m praying for thankfulness in every extra moment I get to carry this little one: each little kick and wiggle that assures me she is there, even the frequent trips to the bathroom reminding me that she is probably getting closer to being on the outside!

She is growing well and, praise God, remaining head-down!

So how are those pre-baby goals coming along?? Here’s an update!

  • I’m still leisurely reading through the Psalms; I love all the praise and dependence on God!
  • My freezer list is complete and food is made (scroll down)
  • Biting my nails has ceased…but I do have to consciously stop myself in the middle of reading or a movie sometimes! And my nails grow slowly. And at different rates. So funny.
  • Baby’s sweet little pink dress is done (I had it in a photo for week 36) and while I can point out all the mistakes I made, I think it was still a success.
  • Her fleece blanket is finished (also featured in the last post with the dress).
  • I’m impressed I’ve been able to pin the kids all down at the same time long enough to read longer read-alouds at all but we have read “Capyboppy” and are almost finished reading “My Father’s Dragon”.
  • With the help of some of the kids, we’ve taken in over a gallon of blueberries!
  • Our homeschool plan is loose but more or less in place. We did a soft start to school this week mainly focusing on math and reading to refresh the kids mostly and get things off the ground before we break again.

And here are the meals in the freezer! I’m so thankful to have had the time and resources to do this much more extensively this time. I’m excited about eating some of these!!

For quick breakfasts, we have:

  • 2 bags of breakfast sandwiches (egg, Canadian bacon, and cheese on buttermilk biscuits)
  • 1 bag of blueberry muffins – (thanking one of my good friends for sharing the recipe with me!!)
  • 1 bag of banana chocolate chip muffins
  • 1 loaf of zucchini bread
  • 1 bag of breakfast burritos (egg, sausage, cheese, and spinach)

For dinner:

  • 2 chicken shepherd pies
  • 2 Swiss, cheddar, bacon, spinach quiche kits (just thaw, add eggs and milk and bake)
  • 2 bags of marinated Korean beef ready for the crockpot
  • 1 bag of red lentil curry masala with yams
  • 1 bag of chicken masala stew
  • 2 bags of chili con carne
  • 1 family size jar of chicken taco soup (recipe from my dear sister!)
  • 1 bag of meatballs
  • 3 bags of cream cheese chicken burritos

Other:

  • 1 bag of whole wheat buns
  • 1 loaf of sourdough bread
  • 1 loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread
  • 2 bags balls of dough for rolling out into naan for the Indian dishes

At the very least, I can feel relieved knowing that my family has options while we get through the first few weeks and we won’t have to resort to ordering pizza (although I’m sure it’s going to happen a few times anyway)!

Let the real wait begin!

 

 

 

 

Simple Cupcakes

Simple Cupcakes

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Every once in a while, a little girl just needs a cupcake.

Light and fluffy…topped with a ridiculous amount of frosting; easily carried away by barefooted urchins outside into the summer sunshine.

Little Joy loves all things cupcakes, rainbows, kitties, and PINK. There was recently a period of about two months solid where every night she would add to her prayers “and please help us to make cupcakes and brownies again soon…” Due to an extreme lack of self-control on the part of people who will remain anonymous (cough!), we don’t normally make a lot of baked-good treats. But just once in a while…

These are for her.

This recipe is an adaptation of one handed to my mom years ago by a friend. I’ve taken out some extra sugar and altered a few ingredients but they are essentially the same sweet cakes my sisters and I relished over tea parties and even birthdays (as it is easily transformed into a regular cake).

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Cupcakes:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour (I like to add 2 Tbls arrowroot powder for texture)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cups milk
  • 1 1/2  tsp vanilla extract

Frosting:

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 Tbls butter, softened
  • 1/8 tsp mint
  • 3-6 Tbls milk

If I decide to add coloring, I will toss 1/2 tsp or so of beet powder into the mix or until I get the desired depth of color.

Directions:
Cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla.
Beat egg and add to butter and sugar.
Sift together flour, arrowroot, salt, and baking powder.
Add dry ingredients alternating with milk into creamed mixture.
Beat gently until smooth. Do this by hand. If you choose to use a mixer, be careful not to over-beat!

Bake at 375 for 18-20 minutes for regular sized cupcakes, or 8-10 minutes for mini-cupcakes. These are best when they are JUST done; not dry.

Frosting: combine ingredients. Beat well.

Pregnancy update: Week 34

Pregnancy update: Week 34

We were blessed to have my mother stay with us a whole week! While there never feels like there is “enough time”, I felt so grateful for the time we did have. It was hard to say goodbye realizing that a week had flown by already!

And then, she took my two oldest children with her for a week at her’s and dad’s place. How fun! I remember fondly the precious times of “going to the grandparents’ house” when I was little. What good memories and now what good memories for my own kids. So thank you, mom and dad!

When my mom came up, she brought with her LOTS of fresh goat milk to share between our family and my sisters’ families. Such a treat. And I have to admit, I have indulged more often than not in a fresh cup here and there and of course making more goat kefir. I have noticed, as the midwives have too, that I haven’t been gaining much weight for a few weeks. While it isn’t strange for me to begin stalling at a certain point toward the end of every pregnancy, I still have six weeks to go until I’m due and I think it feels too early for me to be stopping already. I’m not worried yet, but I have started monitoring my weight at the same time every day in addition to making sure I’m eating lots of quality food throughout the day.

Baby is still constantly moving and pushing around for more room which I don’t feel I have. I’m very amused by the fruit/veggie size comparisons online that depict my growing baby as a cantaloupe, and then a watermelon. Sometimes it feels like I have a hard little melon in there. The other night, she hooked me right under the ribs with a strong kick. Ouch.

I have been having so much fun being able to clean the house more with two kids away. I just have to say it again: I LOVE nesting. I love going room by room, organizing and getting rid of extra stuff, and walking out with a fresh clean feeling. LOVE IT. Perhaps a bit too much. But I have successfully hauled away so much STUFF over the last week; it just feels good.

The week without the oldest two has also afforded more intimate time with my younger three urchins. It’s been hugely beneficial for my younger son and good for me too. With my always-busy personality, it can be too easy for me to forget my kids need me to stop and invest time in them. Some don’t need it quite as much as others, but he sure does. I’ve tried to be sensitive to that this week and am thankful for the opportunities to do so.

I have put away six meals this month! So far we have:

  • Chili
  • Red lentil curry
  • Chicken masala stew
  • Chicken cream cheese burritos (3X)

Plus:

  • 1 loaf of sourdough bread
  • 2 bags of dough-balls to be thawed and rolled out into naan for the curries

July has proven to be a hotter month here. One evening while finishing some work on the kitchen counter I just needed to cool down…just a little. I grabbed the large metal wash basin from the bathroom, filled it with cold, cold water and just stood in that while I finished working. Ahhhhh… As we have no air-conditioning here, the few months we actually have significant heat we just…endure. And use lots of fans. And then am more appreciative for an overcast day when it appears.

34 down and 6 to go!

I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
Let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together!

Psalm 34:1-3

 

Monthly Meal Planning

Monthly Meal Planning

IMG_4543One of the biggest sanity-savers for me has been meal planning. Since I homeschool, mind the small ones, and run the regular affairs of the house, it gives me tremendous peace of mind to know ahead of time what meals we’ll have. AND (drumroll, please…) it saves us money! Planning what we’re going to eat for the month keeps me from buying extra or unnecessary things when I’m shopping.

With that being said, there are some meals I don’t plan. I don’t exactly plan breakfasts (although, I will sometimes plan a special weekend breakfast) and I don’t plan lunches. I’ll explain further down.

Near the end of the month, I print out a blank calendar, figure where I want the month to begin and end and start filling in the meals. For us, we enjoy getting out together as a family on the weekends. Since we only have one car we normally do the bulk of our month’s shopping together on the first Saturday of the month. At that point, the fridge is practically bare and even the kids are willingly eating the last of the carrot sticks because there’s really nothing else to snack on.

It is time for one big massive grocery haul.

Let’s just say that years of playing Tetris as a kid has really paid off for my husband; he can manipulate those Costco boxes into the trunk of our Freestyle like nobody’s business!

The following weekend, or ideally the weekend after, we make a mini grocery run to replenish a few things like some produce because, obviously, lettuce and tomatoes won’t keep an entire month.

I have my menu and I’ve made a shopping list based on those meals. The closer I stick to my list, the more successful I am at saving money. Here is an example of a typical monthly menu for us:
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Repetition: As you can see, there are a lot of repeat meals in there. Having two or three of the same meals every week is less kitchen work for me, the kids usually look forward to dinner, and it allows me to better calculate the amount of some items that I’ll need. For example, since we have tacos every week, I figure I’ll probably use roughly 1 ¼ packages of tortillas (some nights, the kids are hungrier than others!). So I’ll buy 2 packages and then I know I’ll have extra tortillas for random snacks or lunches or to be used in freezer burritos or breakfast burritos or a meal like fajitas. I know in one month of meals we’ll probably use 1 entire block of cheddar cheese on just the taco nights. I will probably buy an extra block for lunches and snacks but reserve one for tacos. 1 box of grape tomatoes from Costco (if I’m conservative enough with it) will last our family two weeks of tacos and pizzas and maybe as an add-in to a veggie tray snack.

Soup night: Not everyone in the family is nuts about soup night. I try to place it between more “exciting meal” days so that while we’re trying to be thankful for being cheated out of a solid meal we can all remember “oh yay! Tomorrow is pizza!” Soup night is awesome for me as the chef because it’s the one night I can force my family to consume lots of bone broth and I can look through our produce supply and throw in any number of vegetables that need to be used.

Freezer meals: There is nothing better after a crazy day than remembering that I don’t have to make anything for dinner because it’s already done. Whew! I can breathe a sigh of relief (unless of course I entirely forget to pull it out in the morning for it to thaw-oops ;))!

Left-overs: I have a great aunt who grew up during the Depression. Nothing ever went to waste in her home and I mean NOTHING. I cringe when I have to throw food away. Even if I can’t remember how old it is and really don’t feel like eating it, I still hate wasting food. Usually, left-overs show up for lunches through-out the week but once in a while we’ll have a collection of left-overs that can amount to dinner portions. I re-heat all we have and place it on the table buffet-style. I’ve finally gotten smart and started write the date I put it in the fridge on the lid!

Everything else: All the other meals I try to be fairly conservative with. For the most part, I select meals that will use (or can be substituted with) ingredients that I’ll likely already be buying for other meals. I have a small arsenal of favorite meals I pull from and don’t put a lot of strain on the grocery budget.

Breakfasts: As I said, I don’t write up month’s-worth of breakfasts on the menu. I repeat breakfasts much more than dinners. Unless I plan ahead for a special weekend breakfast, I just don’t have the time to anything more complicated than a pan of scrambled eggs. I use my weekly breakfast board (laminated for repeated use) and write up an easy list. Here is a typical week of breakfasts from the board:
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So when I shop with breakfasts in mind, I’m generally just buying a ton of eggs, butter, bags of frozen berries, oatmeal (which I buy every few months in bulk), fruit, greens like spinach and kale, and tons of milk for making yogurt.

Lunches: This is where I really wing it. Dinner left-overs supply about half the week’s lunches (taco salads on Wednesday afternoon!), then I stick with some basics like sandwiches (there’s always peanut butter and jam around and making bread is easy and cheap), quesadillas, or, gasp! Macaroni and cheese. I usually have enough veggies or fruit around to provide a small side for each kiddo.

Sweet tooth: I also consider a few treats for the month like cookies one week, or pie at the end of another week. But just to avoid having too much sugar and spending more I keep it to a minimum. To be perfectly honest, I’m the biggest culprit! If there are chocolate chip cookies around, I’m in trouble.

My completed menu goes into my binder or on my fridge so I can always quickly reference it. And just because more is better (haha), I write up my breakfast ideas and dinner plans on my laminated boards which also adorn my fridge.

There’s the planning part of it all. I love the frugal feeling I have when staring into a clean, empty fridge at the end of a month knowing that we really did use what was in it. And then the feeling of satisfaction when the fridge is bursting with new, good food for another month!

Spanish Rice

Spanish Rice

Another recipe from my dear mother! This Spanish rice is super easy; I love how I can mostly throw it in, walk away and remain confident that it will be a success.

  • 1 ½ cups of rice (I’ve had great results with jasmine rice
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, diced small
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon coconut oil or pastured lard
  • 8 oz tomato sauce
  • 2 cups chicken broth

Just a quick note, the chicken broth is KEY to making this rice delicious. I have made it with water and it works in a pinch but you’ll lose so much fabulous flavor and the benefits from chicken broth if you don’t. Make your own if possible, it’s worth it!
IMG_9543IMG_9546Heat a medium-sized pan or pot (make sure you use one with a good-fitting lid) over medium-low heat. Add coconut oil or lard to melt. Rinse rice and add to the oil. Stir to coat the rice.
IMG_9547Add minced garlic and diced onion. Stir and let it cook until the onion is translucent but don’t let the garlic burn!
IMG_9551 Stir in salt, tomato sauce, and chicken broth. Increase the heat until rice begins to bubble. Then cover with a lid, and turn heat down to the lowest setting. It should barely simmer for the next 30-40 minutes and then be done! Lift the lid to fluff before serving.

Spanish rice goes delightfully well with burritos, another favorite in our family!

Easy Cream Cheese Chicken Burritos (freezer friendly!)

Easy Cream Cheese Chicken Burritos (freezer friendly!)

When I need an easy, quick solution to dinner, these burritos are one of my go-to recipes. My mom has been making this version since I was a kid, so the credit really goes to her. They are tasty, kid-friendly, don’t require a ton of work or ingredients, and they freeze really well! I’ll often make a double or triple batch so they are always available in a pinch for quick dinners or lunches.

Here is what you’ll need:

  • A dozen or so flour tortillas
  • Pre-cooked shredded chicken, about 2-3 cups (this is a great way to use the chicken from homemade chicken stock!)
  • 1 can refried beans
  • 1 8oz package of cream cheese
  • Taco seasoning (optional)
  • Baking dish, lightly oiled

Normally when I make these, I make a LOT. The above ingredients are really for one batch. Since I buy a lot of my food in bulk, I just haul out my box of cream cheese and large bag of 50 tortillas from Costco, several cans of beans, and whatever chicken I have on hand and just keep making burritos until I run out of something.

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Lay out your supplies: a stack of tortillas, a bowl of beans with a spoon, cream cheese with a butter knife for slicing off chunks (or cube up what you want beforehand), and a bowl of shredded chicken. If you’re using the taco seasoning, season the chicken and mix. I always eye-ball this step since I never have the same amount of chicken when I do this.

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Lay out one tortilla, spread with a good tablespoon or so of beans, add the cream cheese, then about ¼ cup or more of shredded chicken. Roll into your preferred burrito shape and, done!

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Place your burritos in your baking dish. If you’re baking right away, cover with foil. Heat oven to 350 degrees and cook the burritos for about 30-40 minutes or until they are piping hot inside. At this point, you can remove the foil and brown the tops for another 7-10 minutes or spread with your favorite cheese and bake until just melted.

We often eat our burritos with sour cream, salsa, shredded lettuce and tomatoes. They also go well with this Spanish rice.

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If you’re planning to freeze your burritos, throw a piece of plastic wrap around each and slide into gallon-sized zip-lock bags. I’ve had mine a month later sometimes and they’re just fine.

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Feeding a large family on a budget: Learning where I over-spend and what I can do about it

Feeding a large family on a budget: Learning where I over-spend and what I can do about it

When it comes to feeding a large family in Southeast Alaska (for our particular location four to five kids is considered a large family), I certainly don’t have all the answers. It is something I am constantly learning. Every month is a new challenge. Once in a while I come in under budget (yay!!) and the rest of the time I just do ok or go over.

It’s still a work in progress, I’ll admit. When we first instituted a budget, meal planning the whole month sounded like the obvious choice for us. I was immediately discouraged though because I found myself over-spending every month! So I did a few months where I tried “winging it”, looking for sales figuring I’d meal plan only half the month and make up the rest of the meals with whatever I got. We ended up over-budget again. What was the deal? Was I not smart with my purchases? Was our grocery budget unrealistically low?

Here’s what I think: every family situation is different. The more I try to figure this out, the more I’m convinced there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to saving on groceries. It can be discouraging to read other meal-planning mom blogs where they proclaim “I feed my family of 8 on $400 a month!!” It used to make me cry. But there are so many individual factors that play a role in how much you spend; some within your control and come are not.

These are some of my personal struggles:

The “No factor”

There are many times when I fight to say “no” to an item I encounter at the store that’s not on my list maybe because I forgot to add it, or it’s suddenly a really good deal, or (haha) I succumb to the five chorusing squeaky voices of my shopping helpers in and around my cart. It can also happen when I go into the store alone for just “one thing”…invariably I come out with more than one. It’s worse when I’m pregnant. 😉

Discontent

There’s also those pretty, pretty Pinterest photos of new recipes. I’m usually tempted to try new ones every month even when I know I should probably mostly stick with cheaper recipes. (And why doesn’t my kitchen look like hers?) But with some of the different ingredients (that are only used in that one recipe), making more than just one or two new recipes a month can add up the cost.

Surprises!

Another way grocery costs can go higher for us are when we have dinner guests. We love having people into our home at least three times a month and I try to factor in a little extra food just for those particular nights but sometimes there are those “surprise” dinners that suddenly throw me for a loop. Yikes! What am I going to make? I can’t just share our humble pan of simple burritos to guests, right? I suddenly call my husband to have him make an extra grocery trip after work (we are a one vehicle family) to pick up additional things.

Location…

While this one is out of my control, it does mean I have to make some different choices than other families. We live in a small town. We have a Fred Meyer. We have a Safeway. We have a Costco. There are a few other little locally owned stores like health food stores but with very high prices. The kind of prices where you go in, come out with a mostly weightless bag, and realize to your horror that you just blew away half your monthly budget. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against health-food stores; I love health-food stores. I just shouldn’t be allowed to go into health-food stores. 😉

Because of where we live, there have been many times when an item I need is flat-out not even in the store when I need it and I’m faced with “do I wait and hope it’s there next week or should I see if the more expensive store has it?” There have also been times when the barge has been delayed and the whole town has to do without some items until it arrives. I then have to shuffle meals around or scrap some mid-grocery trip and come up with something else. And fresh produce – oh my! Where we live it can easily be more expensive than what folks in the lower-48 are used to paying. I want to feed my family fresh fruit and veggies but it’s easy to rack up a huge grocery bill on just those items alone.

It’s a struggle! Yet, despite all this, there have been successful months! A few good tools that have helped me are:

Meal plan the month – in the end, it’s really best for us

Stick to the shopping list

Don’t buy all high-end or organic

Make most things from scratch and avoid pre-packaged/processed foods

Say “no” to sweets or most ingredients to make sweets

Make freezer meals

I’m hoping to touch on each of these in upcoming posts. It helps me to hash things out in writing and hopefully it will help you too. I truly desire to be a good steward of what we have been given while in the process of faithfully and, sometimes creatively, feeding my family.