Freezer Cooking

In order to make save much needed time during their busy days, many moms do something called Once A Month Cooking, or OAMC. This means that they will spend one (long!) day making as many meals for the rest of the month as they can before sticking it all in the freezer to pull out as needed. This is a nice concept. Except not everything I want to eat can be frozen. Nor do I have enough time to do that. Enter MoneySavingMom and FishMama. They team up once a month to host a virtual Freezer Cooking Day. They come into the day with a list of foods they want to prepare, but their list is not made up of 37 different casseroles like you expect. Sometimes those foods are casseroles, sometimes soups, and sometimes meal components (such as shredded chicken or marinated beef) to make a fresh cooked meal go faster. They also usually include breakfasts and snacks, too. I usually like to participate to some extent, but this time I am prepared with a plan (or at least a list of foods):

Breakfasts

breakfast cookies done

banana muffins done

bagels (egg & cheese on some)

instant oatmeal

mini apple pies

pancakes done

breakfast burritos done

mini egg frittatas

Snacks

cookie dough done

pretzels

granola done

Lunches/Dinners

shredded chicken done

tortillas

bean burritos

pizza pockets

brown rice done

lentils

beans done

This list does look a little long and ambitious, but I am confident in my ability to get things done. It may take a few days, but all these foods will get cooked and put away in my freezer to be pulled out during some hectic time. See, that is the beauty of freezer cooking. You pick a time (be it 3 hours or 30 minutes) that works for you, cook a little bit of food, then stash it away. You can also just make a double batch of a food you are already cooking so you can stick one in the freezer. Then when you have no time (and are this ——- close to picking up a pizza or going out to eat) to cook or just don’t feel like it, you can grab something out of the freezer. Freezer cooking is also especially helpful in the mornings when the husband gets up at 4 am and needs a quick something to eat before rushing to the gym and something to eat once he gets to work. Since I am still in bed with the kid, he is able to grab something either out of freezer or something that I had put out for him on the counter the night before that was previously made.

Wanna participate too? Then go check out MSM.

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Menu Plan Monday

I am going to menu plan every week…I am going to menu plan every week…I am going to menu plan every week…

Breakfasts

homemade lara bars (flavor will depend on my mood when I make them) x3

bagel sandwiches x 2

steel-cut oatmeal, fruit

grits, spinach scrambled eggs, fruit smoothie

Dinner

vegan chili mac

baked chicken, green beans, polenta

brown rice & lentil casserole, broccoli

black bean & quinoa chili

tilapia, quinoa, asparagus

spaghetti squash with white bean provencal, broccoli

TBD

For more great menu ideas check out I’m An Organizing Junkie

Inspired by Erin at $5 Dinners, I am going to start keeping track of how much my dinners cost. She breaks down her meals ingredient by ingredient to show everyone just how possible it is to serve nutritious, yummy food on a budget. I have decided that I am going to do the same with my meals, since the main idea of my blog is to show that it is possible to have a healthy, organic lifestyle on a budget. While Erin’s goal may be $5 or less a meal, I do not have a goal yet, though I can assure you that it will always be less than $10! I will post recipes, or at least menus, with cost breakdowns for our dinners as they are eaten.

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Green Tip Tuesday

My tip for today is a quick one that is free – unplug it! Not using your toaster right now? Unplug it. Not listening to your radio? Unplug it. In the US about 20% of a home’s energy bill is a result of appliances and home electronics; and the truth is that even when your appliances and electronics are turned off, most of them are still drawing electricity. This energy use is known as “standby power.” Though the standby power usage may not be much in your house, that small amount of usage gets multiplied by millions of homes a day. That adds up to A LOT of wasted energy.

Small appliances in the kitchen are probably the easiest to unplug – toaster, blender, etc. But some of the other big power-drainers are devices like stereos and TVs that most of us find to be too much hassle to unplug. Is that you? Then spend a few bucks (if you don’t already have one around the house!) on a power strip that allows you to cut power to several devices with one switch. Still too much work? Spend a few bucks on a smart power strip that automatically cuts power to your devices when not in use. You can even use your Swagbucks to pay for it if you buy it from Amazon!

For more information on home energy usage and what appliances are the biggest culprits, check out Energy Savers. Hey, did you know that toaster ovens use more power than refrigerators?

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On Being Green

Being “green” is the thing to thing to do now. Whether you are driving around in a new hybrid car or sporting a “Save Our Planet” t-shirt, the trendy thing these days is to be eco-friendly. But what does it mean to be eco-friendly? Wikipedia says it “refer to goods and services, laws, guidelines and policies considered to inflict minimal or no harm on the environment.” That sounds good, right? In short, yes. The problem, however, is that there are new products put out everyday with “safe for the environment” and “green ingredients” slapped on the label, even though there is no international standard for these claims. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has even said that these labels and claims are useless in determining the safety of a product and its ingredients.

There is also another term that has come out of this green movement: “greenwashing.” This term refers to companies marketing their products or their companies as green and safe for the environment. Did you read that? Marketing. Selling. At the end of the day all many (note I did not say all)  of these companies care about is the bottom line, so they spin their data and their product to make it look like it is a much better choice to make, even if it is not much, or any, better than the non-green alternative. These companies spend a lot of money tailoring their products to consumers and right now, green is in so green is what these companies are giving their customers.

I have always had a problem with these “green” products that started coming out a few years ago. One look at the label makes me wonder how the company can even give it that label. What about the harsh chemicals used in the cleaning products, the toxic waste produced as a result of creating and packaging these chemicals? I am always pretty skeptical of any claim made by a company (since their goal is to make money), so I never really bought into these product claims. Until recently.

Even after I was just talking to my husband about how the ingredients in a popular brand of green cleaning products actually weren’t all that safe and how it is important to look at the labels before buying a brand (or maybe I just had this discussion in my head…either way I was thinking this), I bought a green product without reading the label. I bought some foaming handsoap (yes, I know I have the Dr. Bronner’s in my house for this, but there are a couple guys in my house who don’t like the smell/lack of lather from it) from Company X that I just assumed was safe. Company X has been around a long time and has always been a popular brand among the eco-friendly crowd (even before all the greenwashing). It is marketed as being safe for you and the planet. But one look at the ingredient list made me regret my decision. The first thing that made me regret buying it is the fact that it is a very long list, and I do not like products (be it cleaning or food) with long ingredient lists. When I got home that day I sat down and actually looked at the ingredients, most of which were foreign to me. I will admit that while the list of ingredients is very long, most of these are harmless. The problem, though, is that there are still ingredients that I choose not to use in my home. While they may be “nontoxic” and “safe,” there are still concerns over them. And I like to err on the side of caution.  I thought about still using this product, since I did buy it, but the husband told me that I should not use a product that I am not completely comfortable with; it is just money. To me, being “green” isn’t just about saving the planet and being seen as eco-friendly, it is about saving my family. I like to use products that I know are safe, and while I know there are probably better options out there than what I use, I feel pretty confident in my choices.

So with that said, what is the point of this post? Is there even a point to all my ramblings? Yes. My point is that we should all be educated consumers. Don’t take for granted what a company tells you is safe or best, do your *homework and figure out what it best for you and your family. Don’t just blindly buy products because you like the claim made on the packaging or because it is what so and so always used.  A product that has been around for 100 years may not be the safest for the environment or for you. And remember that what works for one person or one family may not work for another. Company X (which has many products I would happily use, by the way) may be a great source of hand soap for one person, but not for me. It is also important to remember that even though a company has one safe product, the rest of their products may not be as safe.

*My favorite place for doing research is Skin Deep, a database put together by the researchers at the EWG (Environmental Working Group). I love this site because it takes two seconds to type in an ingredient in a cosmetic or cleaning product and see how safe it is. Skin Deep gives ingredients (and products based on their cummulative ingrdients) a score of 0-10, 10 being the worst. This is an easy way to research your products, especially is you don’t have much time.

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Grocery Shopping

I will admit it. I LOVE grocery shopping. Every bit of it. From getting the sales flyer in my mailbox each week to pushing my cart around the store, scouring the aisles for deals. I used to do my shopping every Monday morning, as that is when Bi-Lo does all their good markdowns and it is just easy to do it that way when menu planning. But I stopped doing that a few months ago, choosing to shop at two more expensive stores (though never in the same week), and my grocery budget has shown. I may not always choose Mondays, as I do like to combine trips since I live so far from a good grocery store, but yesterday’s shopping trip re energized me to make it a priority to shop for deals. I had forgotten what it was like to go to multiple store and use coupons; I enjoyed watching my total go down.

First stop was Bi-Lo and I bought:

  • Asian Bean Threads (I thought they would be interesting to try) – $ 1.14
  • 2 Dry Roasted Peanuts –$6 – $1/2 coupon (newspaper) = $5
  • Raw Almonds – $6.29 – $.50 coupon that doubled = $5.29
  • 2 Organic Rice Mix – $4 – 2 $2 coupons = $0
  • Organic Tamari Sauce (I didn’t need this as I have soy sauce but I am trying to stay away from GMO  soybeans) – $2.19
  • 4 Almond Breeze Milk ( I stocked up since they are good until March 21) – $11.56 – 4 $.75 coupons(found in store)= $8.56
  • Half-Gallon Organic Whole Milk (for yogurt) – $3.99 – $.55 coupon that doubled = $2.89
  • 4 Kiwis – $1.76
  • 2 5 oz clam shells of spinach close to date – $1.98
  • Pack of 2 portobello caps – $1.49

Total after coupons and sales – $31.69 (subtotal was $50.40)

I then went to Food Lion to use a $1/$5 produce coupon.

  • 10+ (I lost my receipt so I’m not exactly sure and I don’t feel like doing the math) lbs bananas

Total with tax was $4.31

Then came EarthFare for what I couldn’t get at the regular stores.

  • Organic Cottage Cheese – $4.19 – $1 coupon = $3.19
  • Organic String Cheese – $3.49
  • Organic Salad (could have gotten at BiLo but was a better price here) – $3.00 – $.75 coupon = $2.25

Total = $9.04

These prices may seem crazy expensive and it is true that I could have gotten the conventional versions for much, much less, but organic dairy and lettuce are a priority for us so I am willing to pay more.

I also went shopping at the end of last since I was already going to be out and we were completely out of fresh produce:

I got a TON of produce  and the rest was really good food, but if I had stuck to only buying what I know is cheapest at a store (in this case the Wasa crackers and the organic apples), loss leaders, and had gone to just one more store, I could have spent much less.

Total – $73.## (I lost my receipt)

I am linking this post to The GCC Shopping Round Up.

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Ways to Save – Amazon

One of my favorite places to grocery shop is not even a place I can physically go to – it is Amazon. That has always been a favorite place of mine to shop and find good deals on toys, pots and pans, CDs, movies, and books, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized what a great resource it is for food, in particular organic and natural foods.

Now of course you cannot buy fresh produce over the internet, but for pantry staples and hard-to-find ingredients it is the place to go. Last month I ordered coconut oil for a much better price than I can find in the stores around here and just last week I ordered 12 cans of organic oatmeal. I bought a case of old-fashioned oats for slightly less than what I pay for conventional and then I ordered a case of steel cut oats for half the price of regular, conventional oats in the store. What made the deal even better is that products ordered directly from Amazon are eligible for free shipping if your order is over $25!

Many prodcuts also have a “Subscribe & Save” option where you can order a product once and continue to have it shipped to your door every month at a 15% reduced price. This would be good for products that you use on a regular basis.

You can further reduce your cost for food from Amazon by paying with Swagbucks.

Really, if you have never taken a look at the groceries on Amazon before, I suggest you go do it now. Unless that is, you don’t like saving money.

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Ways to Save – Coupons

Yes, I said coupons. While it is true that a lot of coupons for unhealthy, processed junk, there are also coupons to be found for healthy staples like whole wheat pasta, whole wheat flour, rice, milk, meat, frozen and canned produce, and yes, even fresh produce when you’re lucky. And these are just the ones found in the Sunday paper. It is true that you are not going to find lots of great coupons every week. There are still many, many coupons that I put in the recycling bin every week because they are not for toiletries or food that fits into my lifestyle. I actually would not even bother with these most weeks if I did not have a free source for them (my parents). The coupons that I clip every week are for frozen vegetables (these coupons are pretty abundant), nuts, toilet paper, pasta (I am still on the fence about organic with this one…anyone want to help me out?), organic yogurt (Oikos puts out coupons every so often), and similar items. Manufacturers are increasingly putting out coupons for organic items, so if you are interested in whether or not it would be worth it to you to buy a newspaper each week, you should check out the Sunday Coupon Database to see what coupons will be available.

If you do not want to get the Sunday paper or do not have excess to it, you can always order these coupons. For a handling and processing fee, you can buy only the coupons you want, in the number that you need. Some sites for these are:

These come in handy when there is a coupon for one product you buy a lot or when there is a sale you can combine the coupon with. Or both! That is when I suggest stocking up. With these, though, it is important to note the expiration date and take that into consideration when ordering.

But newspaper coupons are not the best ones. If you own a printer a whole new world of coupon possibilities is open to you.  If there is a certain product that you like, go directly to the manufacturer’s page. More than likely you will find a coupon. Some of the main sites you can go to for organic coupons are:

These are just a few to get you started. In order to print the majority of coupons you will need to download special software and will be prompted to do so the first time you print, but it is simple, quick, and about as safe as anything else you would download. Most coupons can only be printed twice but are often refreshed or replaced with different ones after a certain amount of time.

There are also entire sites dedicated to just free printable coupons. Many of these coupons are not for items that fit in with my lifestyle, but milk, produce, and other coupons can still be found. Some of the main sites are:

Knowing how to use coupons to your advantage can really help you, even if you do not use them very often. Each week I will post the coupons I have printed in the past week. Whether you are just starting the journey towards a healthier lifestyle of have been “on the wagon” for awhile, there is something for everyone to be found.

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