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Tammy's Kitchen

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Washing and drying rubber spatulas

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

I know I mentioned a family update (and more baby pictures!) last week, but I'm totally guilty of just lounging on the couch and doing a bunch of baby-holding. :D

So this week, I will. I WILL turn on the computer and write about baby stuff and include kid pictures and tell you how we're pronouncing "Channah" and things like that. By Wednesday. (There, I gave a day... so it's official.) :)

Channah and Ruth

But here's just one... Ruth holding Channah. I shared her for a few minutes. ;)

Now, for a kitchen tip:

Spatulas in drawer

When I wash rubber (or silicone) spatulas, I feel like I need to take them apart (pull out the handles) in order to get them really clean. It just seems like food and germs probably get trapped where the spatula meets the handle and I can't NOT take it apart. ;)

But washing the parts separately means that the slot on the spatula gets wet, and it takes a long time to completely dry. I don't want to put the spatula back together before it's completely dry, but I also don't want spatulas out on my counter waiting to dry when everything else is put away.

My solution? Put both parts of the spatulas back in the drawer, but not assembled. The drawer isn't air-tight, and the utensils are stored loosely enough that the spatulas can finish drying. When we need a spatula, we grab both parts and put it together before using. :)

Related: Use a spatula to reach things in a high cupboard without needing a stool

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please!

In order to keep the kitchen tips more easily accessible, posts not adhering to these guidelines will be removed. We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. Kneading tip for smooth rolls (Donna at Moms Frugal)
2. Egg tips (The Local Cook)
3. Organizing and filling spices (Heather at Feel Good About Dinner)
4. Plastic shoebox in the kitchen (Frugal in Florida)
5. Almond milk tip (Adrienne at Whole New Mom)
6. Stretching bacon (Kolfinna's Korner)
7. Greasing pans tip (Gwen at Gwen's Nest)
8. Water kefir tips (Gretchen at The Little Pink House)
9. Making bread kits (Gretchen at Extraordinary Ordinary Life)
10. Brown rice tips + switching rice types (Deb at Wholesome Homemaker)
11. Tip for crispy sweet potato fries (SnoWhite at Finding Joy in my Kitchen) 

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Tuna Can Comparisons (and a tuna salad substitution tip)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

I've always wondered which kind of canned tuna I should be purchasing. Chunk Light tuna is the cheapest per can, but it never seems as meaty as the more expensive ones.

When we were first married 10 years ago, I would stock up on the Chunk Light tuna when it was $0.25/can at Kroger. Now, twice that price is about the lowest I've seen it get recently.

(Anyone have cheap[er] tuna tips? Our family could easily use 5-7 small cans of tuna for a light tuna salad lunch... which is why we don't have tuna salad very often.)

I decided to compare the 3 kinds of canned tuna in my cupboard. The Chunk Light tuna (top) was $0.60 on sale; the Solid White tuna (middle can) was $1 on sale, and I can't remember how much the Albacore tuna from Costco (bottom can) was.

Tuna can comparison

I opened all three kinds (Chunk Light - left, Solid White - middle, Albacore - right).

Tuna can comparison

I drained them well.

Tuna can comparison

I weighed them each on my kitchen scale.

Tuna can comparison

I figured out the price per ounce for the drained tuna meat...

...and they were all right around the same price per ounce. :)

So instead of a tip about which can of tuna is the cheapest, here is a tip for making tuna salad!

Tuna salad substitutes

You can change up the flavors when making tuna salad by substituting various things in place of the mayonnaise. Try:

White salad dressings (like Ranch or Caesar)

Sour cream

Plain yogurt

Cream cheese (at room temperature, or whip with some milk to make it easier to incorporate)

Tuna salad
Tuna Salad

Depending on what you use (like plain yogurt!), you could even end up with something a little healthier than normal. :)

I don't have a tuna salad recipe online, but here is what we like in ours:

Canned tuna, drained well
Mayo (or others from the list above!)
Chopped celery
Minced onion
Finely chopped dill pickles (or dill pickle relish -- easier!)
Garlic, salt, and pepper

Mix until creamy; serve on bread with lettuce added, or serve in lettuce leaf "cups".

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please!

In order to keep the kitchen tips more easily accessible, posts not adhering to these guidelines will be removed. We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. Tips for braising/stewing (The Local Cook)
2. Make your favorite cookies healthier (Heather at Feel Good About Dinner)
3. Make baked potatoes in the crock pot (Purposely Frugal)
4. Tip for making "drop" cookies (Robin at Happily Home After)
5. Stretching pasta sauce (Kolfinna's Korner)
6. 7 ways to use leftover cornbread (Wholesome Homemaker)
7. Checking the doneness of meat without marring it (Alea at Premeditated Leftovers)
8.

Our little surprise...

Channah

Just when I thought life couldn't get any crazier!

Channah Shalom was born this weekend, weighing 6 lbs. 5 oz., our smallest (and by far, earliest!) baby and with the longest labor (but thankfully not the hardest labor).

Our planned home birth ended up a hospital birth when my water broke and the baby wasn't head down. Several hours later, she did turn head down, but labor was very, very slow.

After almost 24 hours I used pitocin to (gently!) get labor going, and she was born 15 hours later. Phew! I had a really great hospital experience. While I would much rather labor at home (especially with a long, slow labor!!), I chose to be there and was blessed with nurses who left me alone as much as possible, and my midwife who provided moral support and coaching at the very end.


Yehoshua took a picture of me waking up this morning :)

I'm so glad I started early on my freezer meals, and just last week I washed a load of baby clothes and got a car seat (to replace our expired one).

Pretty much everything else on my "want to do" list didn't get done, I missed my kids like crazy during the 2 days at the hospital, and I had a very emotional labor (I just wasn't mentally prepared for an early baby with a labor that needed augmentation, etc.).

We're getting lots of family time and pulling together to share new responsibilities. Joshua is only 2 weeks post-op from his second craniotomy, so now we're both on 10-lb. lifting restrictions and our boys are getting to exercise their strong muscles! ;) Everyone is in love with little Channah and now, life really does need to slow down for a little bit!! :)

I will eventually write Channah's birth story and share it here! Until then, here are the announcements from Ruth and Moshe's births:

Ruth Patience (2008) (birth story here)

Moshe Paul (2010) (birth story here)

Update: Here is Channah's birth story (with lots of baby pictures!)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Hosted At Stacy Makes Cents This Week

This week, Stacy at Stacey Makes Cents, is hosting Kitchen Tip Tuesdays for me. Head over there to add your Kitchen Tips and see what others have shared!

Thanks, Joshua ;)

5 Ways to Make Food Prep Fun (Eat Well, Spend Less)

I think I breathe a sigh of relief when dinner is finally served every evening. I've become more and more of a "morning person" and making and serving dinner is like my last big challenge of the day. Unlike many other things, dinner can't "wait until the next day" or just be skipped... ;)

So food prep... whether I love it or hate it, whether I'm in the mood or completely exhausted, it's something I've just gotta do most days. (Does "taking a day off" count if it means I did double the day before?) ;)

Here are 6 ways I make food prep more fun. If you have any tips for me along these lines, I'm all ears! :)

1. Food prep is more fun when you... Plan a menu!

I'll be the first person to admit that "menu planning" and "fun" don't usually end up in the same sentence for me. When I first started trying to plan weekly menus a few years ago, it was one of the most challenging things I made myself do each week!

It does get easier, though. While menu planning still isn't my favorite chore, I don't dread it like I used to, and I love the benefits of having a menu plan! :)

Some tips for easier menu planning:

Use a category for each day of the week. A category could be a meat (beef, chicken, fish, meatless, etc.) or a cuisine (Mexican, Italian) or even just something you love (like breakfast for dinner, using the crock pot, or having Friday night pizza!). Planning the week's menu would involve coming up with something from each category -- meaning less "thinking" involved (hopefully)!

I don't use categories for every day, but I do have my own habits, like making beans in the crock pot on Saturday, and using up leftovers from the fridge for weekend lunches. And unless we're really burned out on pizza, homemade pizza on Friday nights is the perfect ending to the week. :)

Balance between tried-and-true and something new. I love variety, so my menu plans usually include trying something new. But, old favorites that always turn out well and are faster to prepare help me get through busy days without spending so much time in the kitchen.

Be okay with what works for you. I do "three things for dinner" a lot, and while it's not a gourmet meal, it satisfies us and keeps us healthy. Take advantage of the convenience foods that help you (like canned or frozen items)! :)

Get help with menu planning! Sometimes when I'm really stumped (and nothing sounds good to me, at all), I ask Joshua or the kids for suggestions. They help me come up with things we haven't eaten recently, or things that sound good to them.

I'm not on Pinterest, but I've heard lots of people say they head there for menu planning inspiration! And I have scrolled through my online recipes here when planning my menu... it's more visually stimulating than my recipe box. ;)

Cooking...

2. Food prep is more fun when you... Start early!

I have a lot more fun in the kitchen when I'm not rushed and running late with a meal. Start plenty early, even the day before for some things, if you like to cook at a leisurely pace like I do. ;)

Of course, starting early is so much easier when you have a menu planned! :)

3. Food prep is more fun when you... Keep things stocked!

Ever go to bake cookies and realize that you need to refill your containers for flour, sugar, and oatmeal? :) I enjoy cooking and baking more when I've kept things refilled as needed. I don't always refill something right away, but I do leave it out on the counter so I can fill it later before putting it away and forgetting about it.

Tip: I buy my spices in bulk, so I do lots of refilling. When I run out of one spice, I check to see if any others are getting low, and if they are, I refill them too. This post shows how I label and easily access the spices in my kitchen cupboard.

Half-sheet with silicone baking mat

4. Food prep is more fun when you... Have the right tools.

Since I do a lot of cooking, we've invested in some good kitchen tools through the years we've been married. A friend recently commented, "You seem to have the right 'thing' for everything in your kitchen!" Well, yes -- for everything that I regularly do. :)

Some of the kitchen tools that make food prep more fun and a whole lot easier for me include a sharp knife and big sturdy cutting board, stainless steel mixing bowls (including large ones), my glass 9x13 and 8x8 bakeware, my bread machine, half-sheet pans with silicone baking mats, and some really great stainless steel cookware.

(You can see more of what I use in the kitchen at my Amazon "store", with notes about many of the items.)

Your most-used items could be very different from mine! But as a rule, when we consider which kitchen items to get or to upgrade, we start with the ones we use on a daily or near-daily basis.

Kitchen helpers
Ruth (4) helping with granola bars and Eliyahu (6) having an apple for a snack

5. Food prep is more fun when you... Enlist helpers (or company)!

I have my own built-in helper team, since all four children will gladly help with just about anything in the kitchen (including things I won't let them do yet!). ;) This post has lots of ideas for things my young children like to do to help in the kitchen.

I really love it when Joshua has time to help with food prep. Even if it's just chopping a few little things, having help gets me moving faster and having someone to talk with while we work is nice (and working together is a great relationship-builder!).

If you don't have a noisy house full of little helpers, plan to chat with a friend on the phone while doing the more mundane food prep tasks like washing dishes, chopping veggies for a salad, or peeling fruit for sauce or dessert.

When the house is quiet enough for me to be on the phone while I work (a rarer occurrence as the years pass!), I like to:

  • Make a list (or get everything out of the fridge/pantry) before I'm on the phone, so my brain can run on "autopilot" and I can have a more involved conversation
  • Use a headset or other hands-free option that doesn't involve putting my shoulder to my ear while on the phone

What do you do to make food prep more fun? I'd love to hear about it!

Related: 6 tips for cooking with a baby

Eat Well, Spend Less series

This month, the Eat Well, Spend Less team is blogging about making food FUN!

For more fun foodie inspiration, check out:

Jessica at Life as Mom

Katie at GoodLife Eats

Aimee at Simple Bites

Katie at Kitchen Stewardship

Alyssa at Kingdom First Mom

Carrie at Denver Bargains 

Mandi at Life...Your Way

Shaina at Food For My Family

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Hosted at Armstrong Family Fare this week

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

My friend, fellow food blogger, and cousin (!) Willa will be hosting Kitchen Tip Tuesdays this week at her blog, Armstrong Family Fare.

Check out Willa's post with 6 menu planning tips, and add your own tip over there in a comment or with a link! :)

Joshua is home and slowly but steadily recovering from surgery again. Thanks for understanding as my online presence has been scarce these past few weeks! :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Thicker homemade yogurt, and my faster slow-cooker homemade yogurt method

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

I know I said I was giving up on making homemade yogurt after all my tries had produced less-than-stellar results... but a friend shared a jar of her really perfect homemade yogurt with me a few months ago, and I was inspired to try again.

I'm still using the same basic method I outlined in my post: heat milk to ~180 degrees, cool milk to ~115 degrees, add starter, and keep warm for ~8 hours.

But now, my yogurt has been turning out great! I know, that's crazy. How could something go from difficult to magical without even changing the recipe? Here is what I've been doing, with a few tips:

1. Heat milk on the stove on medium-low heat, with a candy thermometer stuck to the side of the pan. Don't stir, don't bother with it -- just get the milk to 180 degrees or higher. I try to do this when I'm already going to be working in the kitchen so I don't accidentally boil the milk for an hour and have a big mess on the stove to clean up. ;)

Tip: If the milk does boil, it will still make good yogurt.

2. Let milk cool in pan to 115 degrees. When it's getting close to 115, I check on it every 10-15 minutes.

3. I like to culture the yogurt in my crock pot. It's big, heavy/thick, and can be done on the counter top.

(I prefer to warm the milk on the stove rather than in the crock pot, though, because the crock pot takes so long [and hence a lot of "babysitting"] to heat up and cool down.)

Tip: To culture the yogurt in my crock pot, I first "preheat" the crock pot. Pour some boiling water (at least a cup or two) in the crock pot, turn on high, and get nice and hot. Turn off, and when you're ready to incubate the yogurt, dump out the hot water and pour in the warm milk.

Yogurt

4. Stir in the yogurt starter. I just gently stir it in... no whisking. Then, I put the lid on the crock pot, cover with thick towels (I get clean ones from the bathroom!), and let "grow" for 8+ hours.

5. When yogurt is done culturing, DO NOT DISTURB. This seems to be the key (for me) to really thick yogurt. I've been setting the crock (with lid on) outside to chill when it's finished culturing. Chill for 6-8 hours and yogurt should be firm!

Using these tips, my homemade yogurt has been thicker than plain yogurt from the store (but not quite as thick as Greek yogurt), without straining.

Why does it matter how thick my yogurt is? I can just strain off some of the whey to make it thicker, right? Well, yes... but here is why I want yogurt that is thick without straining:

1. Straining the yogurt is an extra step and extra dishes.

2. The end result (yogurt) is more expensive per volume when strained (you end up with less of the "yogurt" part).

3. I don't really enjoy having lots of whey on hand that I need to find uses for.


Frozen blueberries have been a favorite kid-snack at our house for years now... :)

And lastly, a Plain Yogurt Eating Tip:

Frozen blueberries are our favorite fruit to add to plain yogurt! They're so sweet, and their flavor makes the yogurt irresistible! I like to add the frozen blueberries to our yogurt as we serve it.

I also love fresh or canned pineapple with plain yogurt. Pineapple is another sweet fruit that goes great in yogurt! :)

Next week, Kitchen Tip Tuesdays will be hosted by Willa at Armstrong Family Fare! Willa's stepping in to make my load a little lighter as Joshua will be recovering from another surgery at that time.

I am planning to be back at the computer blogging a little more this week... last week got away from me and I've been wearing myself out doing "life stuff"! :)

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please!

In order to keep the kitchen tips more easily accessible, posts not adhering to these guidelines will be removed. We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. Removing labels from jars (April at I Think I Can)
2. Cooking dried beans (Keri at Growing in His Glory)
3. Sour cream and yogurt tips (Heather at Feel Good About Dinner)
4. 3 ways to cook dried beans (The Local Cook)
5. Softer hands scrub (Frugal in Florida)
6. How to make heart-shaped muffins (Anne Jisca's Healthy Pursuits)
7. Using breadmaker for jam (Tried It, Liked It)
8. Dishes within kids' reach (Gretchen at Extraordinary Ordinary Life)
9. Citrus zest in baking (Deb at Wholesome Homemaker)
10. Rolling pin substitute (Alea at Premeditated Leftovers)
11. Tupperware/storage tips (Cheryl at The Bz House that Love Built)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: 10 tips for organizing a chest freezer

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

I'm curious as to how you keep your chest freezer organized. I've been trying to stretch my grocery trips to once every 12-14 days, and I'm happy with it so far, but my freezer is a wreck! I have a running list of its contents so I know what's in there, but with so many oddly-shaped foods in it (bags of bread, jars of broth, bags of veggies, etc), it just ends up being a huge jumble of stuff. Then I get annoyed when I have to dig through everything to find what I need. Any advice?

My chest freezer

We have a 7-cubic-foot chest freezer, which I think is a great size for holding lots of food (if well-packed) without becoming overwhelming to organize!

Here are some tips for how I keep my chest freezer organized and under control:

1. I don't have a lot of different, little items floating around. We buy things in bulk, so I usually have 5-10 pounds or more of any given item. Fewer items = easier to keep track.

2. We find and use medium-sized cardboard boxes that fit the width of our freezer. I have a stack of several boxes that fit just perfectly along one side of the freezer. I put smaller things (like individually frozen/sealed fish fillets) in the boxes, and it's fairly quick and easy to unstack them and get to what I want -- even if it's near the bottom. I find that boxes are the most efficient space-wise for the freezer. For "tote-like" boxes, just cut off the top flaps.

3. When stacking foods, alternate types. When I stack several bags of frozen veggies, or several boxes or bags of frozen fish or meats, I try to alternate the types as I'm stacking them. This way, I never have to move 3 bags of green beans to reach the corn! ;)

4. Take foods out of their original packaging and re-package them. See the bag of Pollock in the top right corner of my freezer picture above? It's actually stuffed with 2 bags' worth of fish. Many boxed or bagged freezer items are individually wrapped inside the bag or box, and can be opened and re-stacked or re-packaged to take up a lot less space, and this helps things be less crowded and more organized.

5. Put extras of things on the bottom of the chest freezer. We froze gallons of fresh blackberries last summer, and I keep a bag handy to use from. The other bags are packed in the bottom of the freezer, where they're out of the way.

6. Go through "the little stuff" and use it! I find that "the little stuff" tends to get freezer burn if it's not used within a reasonable time frame. I keep little things like bread crumbs (from homemade bread), dry yeast, chopped nuts, etc. in the door of my small freezer so they don't get lost AND so I can remember to use them!

Freezer meals stacked in the freezer

7. Have a freezer inventory sheet. I made a simple one on a scrap paper with lists of my freezer meals and tallies (in pencil) for the number of each. Why tallies in pencil? It's easy to erase tallies as they're used -- or to add a couple more on later if I've made extras of something! So much nicer than crossing out a number to write a new one. :)

8. Every couple of months (or before any big shopping trip or stock-up), go through the freezer. I pull almost everything out, look over what I have, and stack it back in a reasonable fashion. It probably takes me 10-15 minutes to do this with my chest freezer, and afterward I have a much better idea of what I need to buy, or what I need to focus on incorporating in our menus. :)

9. THINK before you freeze. Some of my freezer untidiness is simply a result of freezing something to avoid having to eat it. Leftovers that we didn't really like? NOT a good candidate for the freezer. Sure, it'll keep the food from spoiling, but we probably won't feel like eating it later, and I'll just end up shuffling it around and around until it's so freezer-burned I throw it away.

The same thing applies to packaging. When I take the time to properly package something for the freezer, it stays fresher and I won't dread the possibility of freezer burn later. I've had food that I thought was probably freezer burned (due to my poor packaging) and I ended up waiting until I was SURE it WAS freezer burned, and then tossed it. How sad! It's much better to plan ahead and/or take the time to package well before freezing. :)

And on a related note -- label everything, even if you're sure you won't forget what it is.

10. Hmmm, I think I am out of freezer tips! ;) Anyone have a good one for my #10?! :)

By the way -- I'm sure that upright freezers are easier to organize than chest freezers, but I love having a chest freezer. Chest freezers are more economical than upright ones in a variety of ways (price, operating cost, usable space) which is why we decided on a chest freezer.

I've also found that packing my chest freezer efficiently (especially the cardboard box tip -- #2 above) has really eliminated most of the frost accumulation. Only the top few inches of my chest freezer has a thin layer of frost -- the rest is completely frost-free -- after a whole year of use without defrosting! :) So -- I guess that's the #10 tip. ;)

Related posts:

Freezer meal tips
Labeling frozen food
Frozen food tips
Freezing casseroles without tying up a dish (video)

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please!

In order to keep the kitchen tips more easily accessible, posts not adhering to these guidelines will be removed. We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. Use Pam to set nail polish (Frugal in Florida
2. Buttermilk substitute (Living So Abundantly)
3. Tart-making tips (The Local Cook)
4. Ground turkey and chopping olives tips (Robin at Happily Home After)
5. Shred chicken in your mixer (Shannon at Chickens in My Kitchen)
6. 15 green and frugal foodie tips (The Cheapskate Cook)
7. Meatloaf meatball tips (Tried It Liked It)
8. Cookie sheet comparisons (Gretchen at Extraordinary Ordinary Life)
9. 5 alternative uses for dish racks (Rachel at Trial and Error Home Ec)

Your questions answered: TV, coupons, gardening, FoodSaver bags... plus a family update!

I've got a bunch of questions to answer, plus it's been way too long since I've done a real family update-type of post! So, here is all of that... plus the first pregnancy picture of myself with #5 (thanks to my cameraman Yehoshua)! :)

Having fun in an indoor tent...
Moshe (2), Ruth (4), Yehoshua (7) and Eliyahu (6)

I was wondering if you could tell us what you do for entertainment without TV and netflix. I know its possible but just curious.

As far as "screen" entertainment, we have an Xbox360. We use it to watch DVDs, and we have a small selection of our own DVDs. Some are educational (like Planet Earth or Matthew) and some are just for fun (like Up). :) We do let the boys play video games on the weekends (usually not on school days).

Pretty much any day of the week they are allowed to play games that use the Xbox Kinect (camera) because those are indoor exercise games (Fruit Ninja, Kinect Sports, etc.). With the weather being rainy so often, it's really nice to have an indoor exercise option for the kids (and me...) that is FUN! :)

And aside from that, we do things like board or card games, puzzles, books, drawing, play dough, building blocks, Legos, coloring books, Duplos, making tents with blankets, all that good stuff. :)

Tammy, do you ever use coupons? You can really save money on personal items like deodorant, shampoo, any vitamins or medicines.

I do coupons occasionally. We honestly don't purchase a lot of personal care items, but when we do (like for toothpaste -- since I'm partial to Crest Original) I usually have a $0.50 coupon which does help. And I try my best to wait for the Costco coupons to help lower our grocery budget for things we'd be purchasing anyway! :)

One thing I found for us personally was that since we don't use most of the items, even if it was free-after-rebate or coupon, we still pay 9.5% tax on the pre-coupon pre-rebate prices here in Washington and it just wasn't worth my time and gas to make a stop for items that we might end up needing (or might not use at all before they expired!).

I used to regularly do Rite Aid's single check rebate program and get some good deals on toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc. but they've changed that program and I wasn't finding good enough deals to warrant going often enough to use the "rewards" before they would expire.

I'm also a homebody, we just have 1 vehicle (so any errands have to be done at the busiest traffic times of the day/week -- and take away from our family time), I have 4 young children, and we eat a lot of plain "ingredients" like milk, butter, cheese, veggies, beans, etc... The store sales here usually are within pennies of what I can pay at Costco, and I admit I really like Costco. ;)

So... that's what has shaped my grocery shopping method for this season of our lives. :)

Have you considered teaching beginning music to a few outside kids for some extra spending money?

Yes, I have! I haven't advertised for any music students in recent years, though. I love teaching but don't feel that it's a good time for me to pursue it as a business.

Also, do you garden? Even a small vegetable garden can make a huge difference in your grocery bill.

I had some herbs in pots last summer, and hope to grow more herbs and some lettuce this year! We don't get a lot of direct sunlight at our house/yard due to all the trees nearby, and our summers can stay on the cool side (highs of 65-70 degrees) so that can make it tricky if you live in a shaded area. ;)

I also have a food saver and I LOVE it, but I find the bags to be pricey and felt guilty about throwing them away.... I now wash and re-use them repeatedly!! I write on the edge just like you do so when I cut them open to use nothing is written on the useful part of the bag. I have been doing this for more then a year now and find the bags work fine used repeatedly. I was wondering if you did the same thing?

Yes! I definitely re-use my FoodSaver bags, because they are really expensive. I bought my last box at Costco with a coupon, but it was still expensive! It's worth it to me that we *love* our freezer meals/food, though, and don't have to "endure" them. ;)

Even better than washing the Food Saver bags: if I've just frozen a casserole and then vacuum-sealed it, the FoodSaver bag doesn't get very dirty at all (since the food is already frozen when it goes in). When I take the food out, still frozen, and put it into a baking dish, I put the empty nearly-clean FoodSaver bag back in the freezer without washing it, to save it for later use.

This seems to put even less wear on the bags than washing them... and makes me a lot more comfortable with the amount of bag it takes to FoodSave a casserole. ;)

Family updates! (read more...)

Freezer meals, Costco trip, and pantry challenge (final update for January, 2012)

I've really focused on stocking my freezer with homemade freezer meals during the month of January, and our freezer is pretty packed! I organized everything yesterday and took this picture of the meals I've made this month. These were all meals that I made for dinner, but made a double or triple batch and froze all the extra (mostly unbaked).

January's freezer meals

Casseroles are on the left, then breakfast burritos and chicken egg rolls, and a stack of homemade granola bars. These meals will probably be served with frozen veggies and canned or fresh fruit. (The meals pictured are recipes from my master plan list a few weeks ago.)

Freezer meals stacked in the freezer

I stacked all the 8x8-inch casseroles in the freezer with the labeled edge up, so I can select easily. (See this post for more info about how I package/freeze my casseroles.)

Having a chest freezer sure is handy, especially as our family grows. We've had our chest freezer for a year now, and I'm wondering how I managed with just a small apartment-fridge-top freezer! I know I did, but wow... I don't think the kids ate as much 3 1/2 years ago as they do now. :)

Groceries from Costco

Joshua made a trip to Costco last week, right before his surgery. He won't be able to lift anything for a couple months so he told me we were going to buy a LOT of groceries so I didn't have to make as many trips by myself with the kids. :)

I don't have time to do a price list for this shopping trip, but pictured above are grapes (Ruth's birthday request), butter ($2/lb.), sweet potato fries (using coupon -- $4.49/4lbs.), ground beef, and ground turkey.

Groceries from Costco

And more: clementines (another birthday request), spinach (this kept well in the cold garage; used in lasagna, spinach rice casserole, and quiche for the freezer), milk, eggs, oil (we were out!!), and some baking supplies.

Also, but not pictured (it was a crazy day!), we got a rotisserie chicken for $4.99 which we ate for lunch along with some homemade potato wedges and cooked veggies. Ruth turned the chicken upside down on the way to the kitchen so the floor ended up getting mopped that day too. ;)

AND, we bought disposable diapers and wipes (using coupons) with some Costco gift card money that was given to our family. I got diapers in Moshe's size, but haven't opened them yet. They're in case the babysitter(s) want to use them (while I am at the hospital with Joshua in February), or for me to use after the new baby is born (in March). I cringe spending the money on something that will get thrown in the trash, but I know I will really appreciate the convenience when the time comes. :D

Ruth's birthday cake

This is the cake Joshua made for Ruth's birthday! She wanted chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and hearts on top. I was glad Joshua had fun spending the time making the triple-layer cake and getting it just perfect. ;)

Moshe's birthday

I was more than happy to just make a simple carrot cake for Moshe's birthday (same day as Ruth's). :) One bowl, one pan, and so quick to mix up. ;) We had a lovely birthday lunch at home for Ruth and Moshe on their birthday.

Pantry Challenge

For our family, January's pantry challenge was a continuation of fewer shopping trips (2 for the month), getting my freezers organized (yay!), and starting to make and store some freezer meals.

We stuck to just 2 shopping trips, the freezers are pretty organized (and I know exactly what's in there), and I'm feeling more ready for the challenges ahead now that I've got most of my freezer meals made! :)

Be sure to visit the other bloggers who chronicled their January pantry challenges:

Balancing Beauty and Bedlam
The Finer Things in Life
Getting Freedom from Debt
Good Cheap Eats

Coming tomorrow: A family photo/update post, and I'll answer all your questions from this post about budgeting! :)