Frugality

Kids' Toothbrushing Solution (aka why my bathroom is no longer smeared with toothpaste)

Kitchen counter tooth-brushing setup

Tooth brushing. With 4 kids, ages 7 and under, tooth brushing is a real ordeal around here. It's also something really important to Joshua and me, since we want our children to have good dental health and good hygiene habits from a very young age.

Our goal is for tooth brushing to happen twice a day, and flossing (with one of those handy plastic flossers) before bed. Now, I never feel like brushing 10 sets of teeth each day (4 kids + my own teeth, 2 times a day is a lot of brushing, even if Joshua does some of it!). So, I let the older ones (ages 3, 5, and 7) brush their own teeth in the morning, and just help with the bedtime brushing and flossing.

And somehow, almost magically, our bathroom was never clean. Toothpaste was being smeared in the strangest places. I'd find toothpaste smudged on the door, the mirror, the wall, and of course -- the bathroom counter. And the tube of toothpaste was emptying way too quickly.

We tried putting the toothpaste in a high bathroom cupboard, to be dispensed only by Mom in the morning. But I couldn't seem to make it back there to help dispense toothpaste, as having it "up and out of the way" made it even more inconvenient to remember and do all the brushing.

Joshua came up with a solution that has been working brilliantly for a few months now. We put the toothbrushes and toothpaste in the kitchen. I use a little cup on my window sill, so the toothbrushes can air dry and stay clean, while still being out of the way and easily accessible.

Kitchen counter tooth-brushing setup

In the morning when we're done with breakfast and taking our dishes to the sink, the toothbrushes are right there, waiting for me to put toothpaste on them. I usually send the kids back to the bathroom one at a time to brush and then bring their toothbrush back to me (so it doesn't end up on the bathroom floor or who knows where else!). And the baby (1 year old) gets his teeth brushed right at the kitchen sink.

This setup has helped our toothpaste last a LOT longer. :) (Read more frugal tips at Frugal Fridays!)

I've found the best prices on children's' toothbrushes at places like Big Lots, dollar stores, or Wal-Mart. I try to find a package with at least 2 toothbrushes in it for around $1. If I'm not sure of the quality of the toothbrushes, I just buy one package to see how nice they are. I've been surprised that the more expensive toothbrushes are not always the better ones!

I also give the kids a new toothbrush whenever theirs is getting worn and frayed. This seems to be every 2-3 months. A new toothbrush really works a lot better than an old one, so this is an area where I do not try to "save" by making-do with an old toothbrush, for both us and the children.

Xylitol

Here is a post I wrote about using xylitol to improve dental health, and a delicious affordable alternative to purchasing flavored xylitol mints:

Xylitol: Promoting dental health naturally and frugally

I've not been 100% consistent in using xylitol (life gets in the way sometimes!), but my teeth are so much cleaner when I do use it! :)

Would you mind sharing an update regarding how you like(ed?) using this system? We're considering trying it in our family. Thanks! :)

-Annie

Do I still follow Dr. Ellie's dental system for cleaning my teeth? Yes -- partially. :) Originally (3-4 years ago) I had to add a WaterPik to my routine because of a tooth that was breaking/broken and needed to be kept really clean. (I also didn't chew on that side of my mouth. Do you know how much better food tastes when you're chewing with your whole mouth and tongue?!)

At the end of last year, I finally got that tooth fixed. I had been able to keep away infection and be pain-free for over 3 years with Dr. Ellie's system, but the tooth was much too decayed to remineralize or heal.

After all my research, I did go with a root canal and crown, as I felt my risk factors for the root canal were low (no infection present, very skilled dentist who only does root canals, the "safest" packing material for the root canal, etc.) and I was comfortable getting it fixed in that way. :)

All that to say, I no longer need to use the WaterPik, but I still do use and like it! I also floss once a day, which is not part of Dr. Ellie's "system". If I remember right, she "allows" something like a WaterPik or flossing to be added to "the system" without a problem.

The parts of her system I do use are the toothpaste (Crest Original Paste) and rinses (Listerine and Act), in "her" order. The toothpaste really does seem to work the best for us all around. I use small amounts for the children who can spit. I have tried fluoride-free toothpaste and even with good brushing habits, our teeth had plaque build-up.

I think there is room for differences in dental care, and you should definitely find and use what you're comfortable with! I'm very thankful that through all the reading I've done and since finding and using Dr. Ellie's system, our family's dental health has improved. (Having dental insurance now helps too.) :)

Got any tips for tooth brushing with kids? Tell me in the comments! :)

Blackberries fill my freezer (and the best blackberry coffee cake recipe)

If you look in my freezer right now, you'll see a whole lot of salmon fillets and gallons of blackberries. Salmon and blackberries... foods that will always shout "Pacific Northwest!" to me! Our summer finally warmed up and we had a month of the perfectest weather possible. Clear, sunny days with highs in the 70's... and handfuls, literally handfuls, of juicy wild blackberries.

Fresh blackberries!
A couple of the biggest blackberries Joshua picked this evening

These guys are huge, and will fill a small bucket in no time at all. They're also growing everywhere here in Western Washington. We've found several great picking spots within a short walk of our house.

My favorite spot isn't the one at the end of our driveway (too close to the road with an 18-month-old runaway), but the one at the park down the road. The children play, run, and visit with the goat kids that live right beside the park while I pick blackberries... and pick blackberries... and pick blackberries from the (what I thought was a) SMALL blackberry patch there. :)

Bucket for berry picking

The easiest berry picking is with a bucket and string. I used a few old (clean) shoelaces and cut slits in the sides of empty sour cream or yogurt containers so we'd each have a bucket for picking.

Yehoshua and his bucket, ready to pick blackberries
Yehoshua (7) ready to pick berries :)

Also useful is a grabber of some sort. You know those high-up bunches that are so huge and ripe and get the most sun but no one can reach them? They MUST be gotten. ;) A friend suggested using a long stick with a nail half-way pounded in at the end to help maneuver the canes.

At any rate, something to reach or pull with that doesn't involve skin is really great because those branches just don't like to let go. At all. My parents were here from Ohio last week, and remarked on the size of the blackberries... and the tenacity of the prickles (they're not technically thorns... I just learned this today).

When my parents were here, we tried to make their food experience as PNW-ish as possible. ;) The first evening, Joshua grilled tuna steaks. (I didn't take pictures, but let me just say that leftover grilled tuna steaks takes a tuna melt to a whole new level!)

The next morning for breakfast, I made some fresh blackberry syrup with whole wheat pancakes. For dinner that night, Joshua grilled salmon on cedar planks.

Later in the week, I made blackberry coffee cake with more of the berries. Joshua's freshly made vanilla ice cream went perfect with the blackberry coffee cake!

And believe it or not, blackberry season is still going. I think our freezer can hold a few more gallons, if I take the time to pick them. And it's free food, so I may as well! This is, after all, the only time of year when blackberries are not (as much of) a pesky weed here. ;)

How to make homemade soft kefir cheese (or yogurt cheese)

I'm a big fan of homemade kefir! Sometimes we're making a cup a day, and sometimes (like right now!) I'm making 6-8 cups each day! (I'll be giving away a bunch of grains next week, and cut my supply back down.)

I've given you lots of ideas for how to use homemade kefir, and hopefully convinced at least a few of you to give it a try! Once you have a couple small kefir grains, the possibilities are endless. In the past year of regularly making kefir, I have given excess grains to a couple dozen friends and family members, several of whom I know have passed on the favor to their own friends when their grains grew plentiful! :) Kefir is the ultimate healthy "friendship bread" replacement! ;)

So what's new in my kefir world? Soft cheese, that's what. It's easy, tasty, and a great use for extra kefir. Here's what my kefir cheese looks like spread over a homemade rosemary cracker (cracker recipe tomorrow):

Soft kefir cheese spread on a homemade rosemary cracker
Soft kefir cheese spread on a rosemary cracker

Kefir cheese and rosemary crackers are my favorite combination (that I've tried so far). If you don't like rosemary, you'll have to use another kind of cracker. Joshua doesn't care for rosemary, but he loves this cheese on garlic Parmesan crackers! :)

Now, don't be afraid. That snack looks all gourmet-like, and I'll admit that it tastes amazing! But I made kefir cheese while I slept and the had the kids help me make rosemary crackers the next morning. If I can do it, you can too!

Soft kefir (or yogurt) cheese

Here's how simple it is to make kefir cheese. (You can use homemade yogurt instead of kefir if you want. I've done both, and the results are similarly delicious.)

1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth or (as I did) a thin clean dish towel.

2. Pour your kefir (or yogurt) into the towel. Let drain. Cheese! (See my full recipe for more details.)

At any point in the draining process, you can use the cheese. Drain for a shorter time and you'll get a sour cream consistency. A longer time of draining and you'll have something like cream cheese.

Notice I said "something LIKE cream cheese". Notice I said "a sour cream CONSISTENCY". We are not making kefir sour cream. We are not making kefir cream cheese. We are not making kefir cottage cheese.

Soft kefir cheese is something similar, and could be substituted for, but is not the same as all those other things.

Now, that said, this homemade kefir cheese is a perfect substitute for sour cream! It's a fabulous cheese spread for crackers. And everyone who has tried ours, loves it!

Soft kefir (or yogurt) cheese
Soft kefir cheese (left) and the whey that drains off (right)

I have yet to do a complete cost analysis and compare making my kefir cheese substitutes to what I would pay at Costco. A whole lot of whey drains out of the cheese, especially if you're going for a cream cheese texture. And if you don't have a good use for all that whey (which can be used in place of buttermilk, used for soaking grains, etc.) then you may end up tossing some.

And, giving credit where it is due, my first introduction to the idea of kefir cheese was from Gnowfglins. Here's Wardeh's video showing just how it's done!

Have you made kefir or yogurt cheese? What are your favorite ways to serve it?

Coming tomorrow: Homemade Rosemary Crackers

Budget-friendly meets delicious: Whole chicken on the grill!

This recipe is one of Joshua's new ideas! (Well, I'm sure others have done it, but it's new to us!) :) When whole fryer chickens go on sale (for $0.69/lb in our area, usually limit 3) I buy them. For under $4, we can get a 5+ lb chicken and have meat for at least a couple meals from it!

Joshua loves my oven-roasted chicken, which is a very easy meal to make, and I like having leftover chicken meat to use in other recipes. But, oven-roasted chicken isn't really a great summer meal. It heats up the house. And who really wants the same chicken recipe all year long?

We like to experiment, and Joshua loves to grill. (And I love it when he cooks for me!) As the chickens piled up in the freezer this summer (by "piled up" I mean 5-6 whole chickens...) Joshua decided he wanted to try grilling them!

Our Weber Q grill doesn't have a rotisserie attachment and isn't big enough to grill a very large chicken. No way do I want the chicken touching the inside of the lid of our 7-year-old very-well-used grill! Plus, a whole chicken takes a while to cook.

So, Joshua cut the chicken in half before grilling. His method involves brining -- a salt-water soaking -- to make the chicken super tender. He also coated the chicken with oil and lightly seasoned the outside. The chicken halves grilled in about 60 minutes, and the end result was a really good rotisserie-like grilled chicken! The meat was so tender and flavorful! We had dinner guests that evening and everyone raved about Joshua's chicken.

I decided to try grilling my own chicken after Joshua's success. Of course, he hadn't written down his recipe yet then, and he was at work that day, so I did my best imitation. Which meant I soaked the chicken and grilled it. I didn't coat it with oil, I didn't season the outside, and I didn't even grill it at the right temperature.

It got done and was edible, but was not nearly as good as Joshua's! The meat wasn't as tender, or as flavorful; the skin was icky and the chicken stuck to the grill.

So, if you make this Grilled Half Chicken, follow Joshua's recipe! It seems almost too simple to matter, but it does matter. Trust me! :)

This weekend, Joshua grilled another chicken and of course his was fabulous. We think it tastes very similar to Costco's rotisserie chickens. Rotisserie chicken has long been one of Joshua's favorites, and he's thrilled about making his own at home on the grill!

Joshua wrote up the recipe, and I also took a video of him cutting the chicken in half. That part scared me a little, but it seems easy enough. Now, if I would just sharpen our kitchen knives! ;)

Here is the video (it's also in the recipe):

I'm pretty excited about this new way of preparing whole chickens! I have a feeling that whole chickens are not going to pile up in our freezer ever again... :)

Oh, and I served the Grilled Half Chicken with some leftover Olive Garden Salad and Dressing. I thought it made a perfect summertime meal! :)

From my mom's kitchen: Make your own bean sprouts!

Bean sprouts
Bean sprouts

My mom is one of the most frugal people I know. And when it comes to food, there isn't much that she doesn't either grow in her garden and/or make from scratch. When we visited in May, she was still using quite a few *fresh* things from her garden last year!

My mom sprouts her own bean sprouts for her Beef Chop Suey. I've not done much with sprouts, as it remains yet another topic I want to explore but haven't yet, but as a child I do remember rinsing alfalfa sprouts and bean sprouts. :)

To make your own bean sprouts, you'll need:

2-3 tablespoons (dry) Mung beans (you can buy these at a bulk food store, health food store, or even on Amazon.com)

1 quart glass jar

Water

Cheesecloth and rubber band, or a lid with holes to fit your jar

Soak the beans

Step 1:

Soak the dry beans in water overnight or about 10 hours.

Beans for sprouting

Step 2:

Drain the beans well. Cover the mouth of the jar with a piece of cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band, or you can use a lid that has holes (like a strainer). Place the jar, tipped up like in the photo, in a bowl. You want the beans to stay damp but not too wet.

Covered bean sprouts

Step 3:

Place the jar and bowl in a dark (but not cold) place, or, cover with a couple of towels to keep the light out. My mom uses towels and keeps the sprouts on her kitchen counter. That's a good way to not forget about them! ;)

Bean sprouts

Step 4:

Rinse beans twice daily. Sprouts will be finished in 6-7 days, and should completely fill your quart jar. You can eat them as pictured, or, if the little roots bother you, pinch them off. :)

What should you make with your finished bean sprouts? Why, Beef Chop Suey, of course! ;) Any other suggestions for good ways to use bean sprouts? I'd love to hear about it in a comment! :)

Eat Well, Spend Less: My money-saving, time-saving, healthy-eating method

This post is the third and final post in the Eat Well, Spend Less series! I'm honored to be a part of this series along with other great bloggers representing various parts of the U.S. (and Canada!).

If you're new here, welcome! I'm Tammy, I'm a Seattle transplant, and we love good food!

Money-saving. Time-saving. And healthy eating?! One of the goals of the Eat Well, Spend Less series has been to help you learn how to get the best from your grocery budget, your family dinners, and your time investment...

...because I don't know anyone who has limitless time or money to spend in the kitchen or in the grocery store aisle! But we all want to eat good healthy food, right?

So in this post, I'm going to tell you what works for our family. In short, we:

1. Eat affordable + nutritious (or "whole") foods.

2. Shop at 1-2 stores.

3. Plan for healthy eating, even during busy or stressful times.

1. Eat affordable + nutritious (or "whole") foods.

We've found some inexpensive, healthy foods that we like to eat, and I make sure I plan those weekly! This gives us more resources to enjoy variety the rest of the time... because we really do enjoy good food! :)

I've elaborated on this in my post about our top 5 favorite frugal foods: Oatmeal, beans, soup, bread, and yogurt/kefir. Check out that post for lots of creative serving suggestions, because those foods are anything but boring! :)

2. Shop at 1-2 stores.

I know, I know. I have heard over and over again from people who use coupons and shop several stores weekly, that the reason my grocery budget is "so high" is because I'm not taking advantage of the loss leaders at different stores.

When we first moved to the Seattle area, I was in awe of the number of grocery stores within a 5-mile radius! I even blogged about it, and got lots of great advice and even more suggestions about where to get good deals on food in the Seattle area!

My excitement was short-lived, though. I quickly realized that 5 miles, or even 3 miles, was quite a drive with traffic, and as a 1-vehicle family, grocery shopping during lighter traffic hours wasn't always possible.

Stores move around their items frequently, so just running in for a couple items wasn't always very quick, especially with lots of little kids.

Most of the truly good sales (in my opinion!) have ridiculously low limits for a large(r) family size.

We started getting Red Plum coupon inserts in the mail, but I could rarely seem to match up a coupon with a good sale to get items we needed for a price I was willing to pay. I use very few toiletries, we don't have pets, I use cloth diapers, and we don't buy processed foods (very often).

The "normal" sale prices are almost always quite comparable to Costco's everyday prices.

That last part was the clincher! I love shopping at Costco. With a growing family, we just don't have trouble using those 5-pound bags of organic veggies or big bags of dried beans. Is Costco frugal? I certainly think it can be, and I've been getting the majority of our groceries at Costco for a couple years now. You can see pictures and price breakdowns from some of my Costco shopping trips here.

My reasons for doing most of our shopping at Costco include: We go through a lot of food, Costco is 3 miles from our house, I don't like spending lots of time running to lots of stores, and more. I think most weeks we spend a total of 2 1/2 hours (including driving time and making the grocery list!) on shopping. Many weeks, Joshua does the shopping for me (with a list I've prepared) and despite the occasional (not on the list) doughnut purchase, I love not having to go to the store at all!

3. Plan for healthy eating, even during busy or stressful times.

When we're busy (and who isn't busy these days?!), it's HARD to eat well on a budget. I've been trying to do some planning and preparing for each week (on Sunday, for me) to help us eat better all week.

What my weekly planning includes (or should include!):

--Making a weekly menu plan.

--Making salads for the week. These keep in the fridge and are an instant healthy lunch option. I would NEVER eat a salad for lunch if I had to make it every day. Doing them up ahead means I WILL GRAB one when I'm hungry! :)

--Making oatmeal for the week. I cook a big pan of oatmeal and put it into containers for Joshua's breakfast at work (he re-warms in the microwave). The extra oatmeal, we re-warm in bowls for breakfast(s) through the week. I usually end up cooking oatmeal 2-3 times a week this way, instead of every day! A bowl of oatmeal also makes a good snack.

--Cook beans in the crock pot. I love the texture of dried beans in the slow-cooker! If you've not tried cooking dried beans in a crock pot, you're seriously missing out! A big crock pot of cooked pinto beans can be put in containers and frozen or refrigerated for use in bean burritos (or make freezer bean & rice burritos), or eaten with hot sauce and sour cream for lunch. We love pinto beans, and having some cooked ahead makes them a quick, filling, healthy lunch or snack.

--Put washed fruit (apples, or whatever's a good deal) in a produce drawer in the fridge for a quick healthy snack. I don't usually cut/prep fruit more than 1 day in advance, so it stays fresh and delicious.

--Make homemade mocha frappuccinos for Joshua's lunchbox. (Yes, I always pack a lunch for Joshua!) These can be made with protein powder added, to make them more than a morning coffee pick-me-up drink. Joshua drank one of these daily for probably 18+ months, but recently stopped so I haven't been making these any more. But I used to mix up 5-7 at one time and store them in the fridge so they were ready for the week! :)

I'll be linking up to the rest of this week's Eat Well, Spend Less posts tomorrow, so stay tuned! :)

Warmth in my kitchen: Easy Lentil Soup (new recipe)

Dry lentils

Have you ever cooked with lentils? Despite my love for cooking with dry beans, lentils were something I just hadn't been using.

When we were first married, we lived within walking distance of a health food store that had a bulk section. I got some lentils to try, but didn't have any really good recipes!

I was pretty clueless, and one of the hurdles with buying in bulk at a store like that is that everything comes in unmarked bags. No instructions, so it's no wonder that I wasn't crazy about the meal I ended up making with them!

After Moshe was born last year, Joshua got me some Manischewitz soup mixes to try. I balked at the price, but the soups were delicious! (It's all that MSG.) I knew I could create my own versions for so much less.

This time, I bought my lentils at Costco. The 25 pound bag didn't have much in the way of instructions, but my experience is a little greater and my Google powers are infinitely greater than they were 9 years ago. ;)

I wish this Lentil Soup were as easy to photograph as it is to make! ;) I added some cheese for garnish, but really I don't feel this soup needs cheese. :)

We all really like this soup! Granted, after making it 3 times in the course of a week, the children were a little less enamored. ;)

This lentil soup surprised me by how easily it all came together for a warming, filling weekend lunch. I like to serve with homemade bread and a side salad, which makes for a very affordable meal!

Resist the urge to double this recipe, thinking that 2 cups of lentils couldn't possibly make that much soup. Unless you're feeding a crowd, this recipe should be plenty for your family! It easily feeds us (2 adults and 4 young children) with leftovers. :)

I'm so happy I took the plunge into learning more about lentils and using them in the kitchen! This soup helps provide the variety we love while saving money! :)

Sport Berkey Filtering Water Bottle: Instantly clean drinking water! (Video review, giveaway, and discount)

Sport Berkey filtering water bottle
Sport Berkey: on-the-go filtering water bottle

If you've been a reader here for very long at all, you've probably heard me rave about our Royal Berkey water filter.

Our Berkey is a counter-top water filtering system that is effective, affordable, and perfect for disaster readiness, as it filters without electricity and can even filter rain water!

Read more about the Berkey here. We bought ours 3 years ago from More Than Alive and love it! We're still using the original filters, which should last another 3 years yet. At 1.6 cents per gallon over the lifetime of the filters, we are so blessed to have clean water for cooking and drinking that is practically free!

The Sport Berkey Portable Water Purifier is a water bottle with the same great black Berkey filtering element, set up for on-the-go instant filtering. More Than Alive offered to let me try out a Sport Berkey, along with giving away one here. (Scroll down for giveaway details!)

Sport Berkey filtering water bottle

Initially, I wasn't really sold on the idea of the Sport Berkey filtering water bottle. After all, the water from our Royal Berkey is so inexpensive, and I am completely infatuated with my Contigo water bottle. Plus, I'm at home 95% of the time so I just carry water with me when I go out.

However, I am really liking the Sport Berkey water bottle! I decided it wasn't really fair to compare the price of its filtered water to the Royal Berkey, but instead, compare to bottled water.

The Sport Berkey isn't exactly cheap, at $29. Using water from any source (think a rain barrel, stream, or river!), you can refill it 160 times, making each bottle of water 18 cents.

If you're refilling from the tap (city water or well water), you can refill about 640 times, decreasing the price per bottle to just FOUR CENTS. FOUR CENTS, people! And that's for a 22-ounce bottle.

What I love about the Sport Berkey:

  • Instant, on-demand, on-the-go filtered water.
  • Perfect for traveling. You can take an empty Sport Berkey through security at the airport, and then fill from a drinking fountain. So much better than paying inflated prices for airport water or drinking straight from a fountain!
  • Bottle is BPA-free, and water is filtered just prior to drinking. This water tastes great, just like water from our Royal Berkey!
  • Perfect for emergency preparedness or disaster readiness. The Sport Berkey has a shelf life of 50 years!
  • All the same great water features as other Berkey water filters: clean, healthy drinking water with beneficial minerals remaining.

The filter in the Sport Berkey can be replaced for $17. This makes subsequent refills even cheaper than 4 cents. Now, I haven't had my Sport Berkey long enough to need to replace the filter, so I can't attest to how well the actual bottle holds up over the years.

I would not want to use the Sport Berkey water bottle to replace our counter-top Royal Berkey water filter. We use lots of water for cooking and drinking, and there's no way a little bottle would supply those needs!

However, if:

--You are not the head of a household and want something personal-sized

--You travel a lot

--You have limited space

--You're on a limited budget

--Or you currently buy bottled water

...then I think the Sport Berkey could be a great investment!

How well does the Sport Berkey water bottle actually filter? Well, I did a food coloring test to find out. I was giddy over the results, and have photos and video proof of red water turning crystal clear!

Sport berkey water bottle adding food coloring

For my filtering experiment, I used some food dye we had on hand.

Sport Berkey with red water inside

I put a bunch of food coloring in the Sport Berkey water bottle.

Sport Berkey water bottle in action

Suck (or in this case, squeeze!) to filter the colored water.

Clean filtered water from the Sport Berkey water filter

The results? Completely clean drinking water!

Watch my video of this process:

That's just the visual test. The taste test comes when you can take smelly, chlorinated tap water and turn it into delicious, pure-tasting drinking water!

Tap water varies a lot, and here in the Seattle area our tap water tastes pretty good. In Ohio, the city tap water smelled and tasted awful, and wasn't always safe for drinking (not by my estimation, but by city officials). We were relieved and excited when we got our Berkey water filter and it actually worked on that horrible water! (We had been buying reverse osmosis water, and were accustomed to that.)

The Giveaway:

More Than Alive is giving away a Sport Berkey water filtering bottle to a reader here! If this product is of interest to you, this is your chance to get one for free! Log in and leave a comment on this post saying you would like to be entered. Giveaway is open today and tomorrow ONLY, Thursday and Friday, April 14-15, 2011.

The Discount:

More Than Alive sells quality bulk herbs, bulk foods, and more -- including our favorite household necessity, the Berkey Water Filter. If you've been waiting to order a Berkey water filter, this discount will give you $20+ off your order!

Use this discount code to receive 10% off your order from More Than Alive today and tomorrow ONLY, Thursday and Friday, April 14-15, 2011.

Code: TX2Q4

Full disclosure, as always: When we purchased our Berkey water filter from More Than Alive several years ago, we were so thrilled with it that I signed up as an affiliate with More Than Alive. Purchasing through my links helps support this website!

I don't review something unless we would spend our own hard-earned money on it, and such is the case with the things we have purchased from More Than Alive. I'm delighted to be able to offer giveaways and discount codes for More Than Alive! :)

Eat Well, Spend Less: 5 Favorite Frugal Meals

This week in the Eat Well, Spend Less series, our topic is 5 favorite frugal meals.

I've found that regularly serving meals that we like that are affordable is the easiest way for me to stay within budget at the grocery store! Here are my top picks. :)

#1: Oatmeal for breakfast!

Now, before you say "Oatmeal is boring!" and skip to the next item, wait just a minute. I want to tell you how to get a good deal on oatmeal and how to serve it so your family will love it -- not just tolerate it. ;)

Where I get my oatmeal:

I buy rolled oats, and have found the best deal is to get them in a 50-pound bag. Check health food stores, bulk food stores, or a co-op for availability. (Calling the store is an easy way to find out if you can purchase in large quantities!) I also can get Quaker rolled oats at Costco for about $0.70/lb. (in a 10 pound box). I occasionally have a need for "quick oats", so I just give my "old fashioned" rolled oats a whirl in the food processor before using them as "quick oats".

Whether you buy quick oats, rolled oats, steel cut oats, or whole oats (oat groats), you can still check into bulk purchasing! They keep well in a dry, sealed bucket.

How I serve oatmeal:

Now honestly, I usually serve our oatmeal with some fruit, cinnamon, and milk. It's easy, healthy, and it's our breakfast at least 5 days a week! (Joshua takes containers of leftover oatmeal to work and re-warms them for his breakfast there.)

But we do switch things up sometimes and add nuts on top (think melty butter + chopped pecans, or apple chunks + walnut pieces)! For overnight guests (or brunch), my Easy Baked Apple Oatmeal is always well received. I've served it to guests who told me afterwards, "I don't usually like oatmeal but this is awesome!!" :)

Bonus: I've also made my own instant oatmeal packets! :)

Beans and rice

#2: Beans and Rice

Another typical penny-pinching food? Maybe, but I'm so glad I learned how to cook beans! :) Joshua, who used to tell me not to overdo it with beans, now thoroughly enjoys my cooked pinto beans and rice.

Where I buy beans:

Beans are another food that is perfect for bulk buying. Dry beans should keep for a year or so. I buy my pinto beans (and a couple other kinds) at Costco for about $0.50/lb. (25 pound bags). Again, check with bulk food stores, health food stores, and health food co-ops to see what kind of deal you can get on beans.

Pinto beans with toppings
Cooked Pinto Beans, topped with cheese, avocado, and fresh tomato salsa

What I do with beans:

Pinto beans and rice -- a simple, filling meal. My favorite way is to cook the pinto beans in my slow cooker. They are unbelievably good! (This post has lots of detailed info on how I cook my beans!)

I like to dress up pinto beans with toppings like shredded cheese, hot sauce, sour cream, or salsa. If avocados are on sale, those are great too! :)

Freezer-Friendly Bean and Rice Burritos -- an easy freezer meal that we love! I even have a video and photo tutorial for these burritos at that link. They're so delicious!

I love cooking with beans! See lots more of my bean recipes here. :)

Bonus: Remember The Everything Beans Book I reviewed a few weeks ago? Well, there's an exclusive 40% off code good through Wednesday, April 13 at midnight MST for The Everything Beans Book, making it just $6 instead of $10! Discount code: SPENDLESS

Veggie Bean Soup with Spinach recipe
Veggie Bean Soup With Spinach -- one of my favorite healthy soups!

#3: Soup!

Soup is (usually) affordable to make, can be fairly low-calorie, and doesn't take a lot of time to prepare! Click here for my soup recipes! :)

#4: Homemade bread...

...which doesn't have to be difficult. :) I have way too many favorite bread recipes, but here are some of the best:

Italian Cheese Bread -- easy and very well reviewed. I take this to potlucks.
Homemade wheat bread -- my standard loaf of bread. YUM.
Homemade unleavened bread (Matzah) -- what we'll be eating next week! :)
Quick and Easy Breadsticks -- buttery goodness. (Non-yeast)
Hearty Herb Bread -- a simple loaf that's super good with soup!
Italian Garlic Knots -- I love garlic.
Challah -- but of course. LOVE!
Pumpkin Dinner Rolls -- my very fave dinner roll, but more work than...
One Hour Dinner Rolls

#5: Homemade yogurt or kefir

Now, I am not on the homemade yogurt bandwagon. I've kept on trying, even after my post about giving up on it. Today when I tried to start some homemade yogurt, I scorched 8 cups of milk in my crock pot because I didn't watch it carefully enough. Sigh.

Last week, my yogurt was a success (!!!) but was still a lot of babysitting. (Milk at 140? Cool some more... Oh no, milk at 80 degrees! Reheat... oh, back up to 130 already? Finally, caught it at ~120 and slipped in the yogurt starter. Phew.)

But. If you're not like me, you might even have fun making yogurt and it's pretty affordable.

What I love, though, is my thick and creamy homemade kefir. It requires NO babysitting, and the culture grows so instead of buying starter from the store, I actually end up with extras to share with friends. Yay! :)


Kefir -- a quick and easy (drinkable!) breakfast food! :)

How I serve homemade yogurt or kefir:

-Sweeten with maple syrup, honey, or brown sugar and drink through a straw (or with a spoon)
-Serve with fresh or frozen fruit
-Use in cooking (How to use kefir or yogurt in recipes?)
-Serve with granola or oatmeal

Popcorn cereal
Popcorn Cereal recipe (a breakfast from my childhood)

#6 (Bonus): Homemade popcorn. :)

Whether you like it sweet, cheesy, or for breakfast, popcorn is one of the few snacks we keep on hand! :)

Tell me about your favorite frugal meal in the comments, or come back later today for links to the other participants in the Eat Well, Spend Less series! :)

Eat Well, Spend Less: Buying in bulk, long-term food storage, and our personal methods

This post is part 1 of a 3-part series titled "Eat Well, Spend Less". I'm honored to be a part of this series along with other great bloggers representing various parts of the U.S. (and Canada!). I'll be sharing links to their insights tomorrow! (Stay tuned!)

If this is your first time here, welcome! I'm Tammy, I'm a Seattle transplant, and we love good food!

Do you ever cringe when the cashier finishes scanning your groceries and says your total? I know I do! I don't shop with a calculator in hand, but I do shop with a list and usually buy healthy foods that we need and will use. Still, if there's a way to save money on groceries without sacrificing quality or nutrition, I'm all ears! :)

Aside from going on a diet (which I should be doing anyway...), I'm going to share how we save at the grocery store. The topics covered in this first article:

Planning is the key to eating well on a budget

Costco, and why I love it!

How to buy in bulk (no matter how big your pantry is)

Long-term food storage: What and how?

How do I lose weight on a budget, anyway?

Planning is the key to eating well on a budget

Honestly, I believe that planning is the single most important thing I do in the kitchen!

Start the week with a list -- your menu plan. Go to the store with a list -- your "shopping plan". Planning will save you frustration and even time -- even when you're cooking from scratch!

Instead of wandering in the kitchen wondering what to start for dinner, you will be making it. Instead of waiting until the last minute and either opening cans of something or going out to eat, you will have started dinner in the crock pot or have planned a freezer meal.

We very rarely go out to eat, but we did one evening last week and while I enjoyed the break from cooking dinner, I quickly realized that cooking dinner at home is one of the most important things I can do to help our family save money!!

Going out to eat seems to offer the choice of cheap food that I feel guilty feeding to my family, or expensive food that we can eat without guilt. We went with the more expensive option, and it brought into sharp focus the importance of, ummm, eating dinner at home! ;)

Costco, and why I love it!

My grocery shopping posts are a bit repetitive. We live 4 miles from Costco and I've made it my 1-stop shopping trip. (See my post "Is Costco Frugal?" for a discussion about this addiction practice!) I love the quality I find at Costco, the many healthy and organic products they carry, and the fact that their prices are competitive. I stick to buying big bags of whole foods (for the most part, anyway). :)

A few things to remember when shopping at Costco or other warehouse-type stores (Sam's, BJ's, etc.):

Stick to your list! Getting sidetracked at Costco is expensive... nearly everything is $10 or more!

Ask: Can I use this much? If not, consider buying a smaller portion at another store. (Especially if the item is perishable!) If you do go with the bulk purchase, make sure you find creative ways to use the item, freeze some for later (many, many things freeze well!), and don't let it just sit in your pantry. :)

Ask: Is this really a good price? Not everything at Costco is a good price. In general, I find Costco's food to be very competitively priced, though. Find those cheaper items and find ways to use them! :) Also for Costco: wait for your staples to appear in the monthly coupon booklets, if possible. Patience pays off!

How to buy in bulk (no matter how big your pantry is)

Fewer trips to the store always seems to equal less money spent, period. In our apartment, I faced the challenge of a small fridge (with a small freezer attached) and had to make weekly trips to the store for milk, lettuce, and other perishables. Even then, I could still buy many things in bulk!

If it is something you use regularly, consider buying in bulk. Most things are cheaper in bulk! Some of my main bulk purchases:

Flour (25# or 50# bags)
Beans (25# bags... or even 5# containers)
Rice (10# bags)
Sugar, salt
Cheese (5# bags)
Nuts (2-3# bags)
Honey (1/2 gallon)
...and many other things at Costco!

Short on pantry space? We've stored some foods (in plastic buckets) in our garage or enclosed porch. In our apartment, we stacked buckets in our bedroom closet!


Buying in bulk doesn't have to mean buying a lot of something, though. "Bulk food stores" often allow you to purchase a very small amount of something at a great price, all because you're buying it in a plain bag rather than fancy packaging!

Some of my favorite "small" bulk purchases:

Cocoa powder
Shredded coconut
Cornstarch
Seeds (sunflower, flax, sesame, etc.)
...and many baking supplies!

I store these smaller bulk items in glass jars in my kitchen cupboards.

We've been weekly shoppers for years. Leaving our apartment fridge for a house-sized fridge and recently acquiring a small chest freezer has made it possible for us to now shop every 2-3 weeks, with an occasional "banana run" in between. ;)

Some of the things I now buy in bulk and freeze, allowing us to shop less frequently:

Milk (freeze in the jug)
Butter
Cheeses
Flour tortillas
Corn tortillas
Bread
Frozen fruits and veggies
Turkey bacon
Meats (whole chickens, etc.)

Long-term food storage: What and how?

Long-term food storage is simply having a supply of certain foods that can be stored for many years.

Did you realize that most grocery stores get many truckloads of food shipped in each day? Most stores don't have huge stock rooms... their "stock" is all on the shelves!

Food is one of those, you know, essential things... and it's startling to learn that the average American has only a week's worth of food in their home. (Why store extra food?)

Having food stored long-term can be as simple as a few buckets of grains or beans. We started with a few plastic buckets, mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers. (You can read all about how we packed the buckets here!) Here is more information about shelf life of stored foods.

But, to capitalize on the frugal advantage of buying in bulk and storing food long-term, I think it's best to learn how to USE the foods we plan to store, and use those foods now! Sure, keep some food packed away for emergency preparedness... but why not have a rotating short-term storage of those foods, as well? :)

My favorite food storage staples:

Wheat and oats (cook for cereals; grind for breads)
Pinto beans (one of our favorites and so easy!)
Sugar and salt

Of course you can branch out from there! I recommend learning how to use an ingredient and then storing it. I like to store dry foods that have a long shelf life and aren't at risk from a power outage.

(I also recommend having a good water filter. Our Berkey water filter will filter water from rivers, streams, or even rain water.)

Healthy snacks

How do I lose weight on a budget, anyway?

Losing weight isn't just about eating less food... it's about trading in those cheap tortilla chips, frozen pizzas, and fill-me-up casseroles (the ones everyone brags about skimping on the meat to save money!) for healthier, low-calorie but filling options. ("Food Budgeting: Spending my calories wisely)

Here are some of the foods we've used to lose weight without substantially increasing our food budget:

Rolled oats (make into oatmeal for breakfast)
Bananas, apples, or whatever fruit is on sale
Frozen veggies or on-sale veggies (steam or eat raw)
Romaine lettuce (make salads ahead w/lettuce, carrots, etc.)
Dry beans (can cook ahead and freeze; use in these recipes)
Brown rice (can cook ahead and freeze)
Ingredients to make soups (veggie or bean-based, freezer-friendly!)
Lean protein -- chicken is what we get

We do still buy some expensive things like nuts, for example, but measure/weigh our servings which makes them last a LOT longer! I have more weight loss inspiration here. :)

Phew, that was a lot of topics all in one! But there you have it -- an overview of our personal approach to eating good food, buying in bulk, and storing food -- while staying out of debt.

By the way, my target grocery budget is currently $420 monthly for our family of 2 adults and children ages 7, 5, 3, and 1. I've been blogging my grocery trips this year with item prices, and you can find those posts here! :) I also shared some ramblings (and confessions) about our grocery budget here. :)

I'll be back tomorrow with links to the other great posts from the Eat Well, Spend Less series! :) In the mean time, I'd love to hear from you in the comments... hint, hint ;)

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