Monthly Archives: October 2007

The pantry principle

I recently shared on a message board some tips for food budgeting (I posted about this here in Feb.), and realized by the feedback there that part of my approach needed to be clarified.  Too often, people will tell me, “Food costs more where I live, I can’t get xyz item at that price here.”   First of all, the point is not to use the items that I use or that my recipes are any more affordable than yours.  Use recipes that utilize foods that are affordable where you live.More important than using economy ingredients is the pantry principle. Many foods are usually pricey, but if you stock up when the prices are right, you can enjoy what most would consider more expensive meals while staying within your budgetary limitations. I use some ingredients that tend to be expensive. But for me, they’re not.  Why?  I don’t shop for ingredients for specific recipes – I shop to fill my pantry.  That means when cheese is on sale, for example, as it was this week, I’ll buy a large amount and put it in the freezer for when I’ll need it.  Peanut butter is on sale, I stock up. Etc, etc, etc.

If you were to watch me shopping for non perishables, you would notice that though I usually have a full shopping cart, there are only a few different items -thirty of this, twenty of that. I buy alot of whatever is on sale, usually saving an average of 33 – 50% on my bill from what it would be if I just bought the ingredients when I needed them. I try to keep my pantry and freezer filled with staple ingredients that I regularly use.  When it’s time to plan my menu for the week, I think about what I have on hand.  Do I have a lot of pasta, or a lot of potatoes?  Am I running low on canned tomatoes but have a bunch of canned fish?  Did I buy alot of something perishable on sale that needs to be cooked up and put into the freezer right away (this week it was bananas, last week it was cottage cheese)?

It’s not what you buy that will make the big difference, it’s how you buy!


Baked Oatmeal

Yesterday was a busy morning in and a busy afternoon out, and because I couldn’t exercise earlier in the day, I ended up exercising before bed instead of prepping for this morning’s breakfast.  So this morning I changed around the order of this week’s breakfasts to make something quicker than what was planned.  Schedules are very helpful, but a person shouldn’t be a slave to the schedule – the schedule is just intended to be a tool to help us, not to make us feel guilty!

While I was in the kitchen, I took some time to prep for a few breakfasts – I ground the flour for the biscuits, washed the potatoes for the farmer’s casserole (will shred them later on today and mix up the rest of ingredients to prepare for baking), and prepared the rice pudding (yum!).  Since today I made baked oatmeal, I thought I would share the recipe with you.  Oatmeal is a great food, but it’s often hard to get kids to eat it.  This is a nice way to prepare it, and my kids enjoy it.

My recipe makes 2- 9×13 pans (I use one for breakfast and freeze the other to use for another week), so you’ll want to adjust for amounts accordingly:

Baked Oatmeal

  • 12 c. rolled oats
  • 2 c. brown sugar (I use sucanat)
  • 4 t. salt
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 4 c. milk
  • 2 c. oil (I used coconut oil)
  • 8 eggs, lightly beaten

(Optional: soak the oatmeal overnight in 2 c. milk.  Continue next morning, adding in all other ingredients and remaining two cups of milk.)

Mix all ingredients, bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 – 35 minutes until set.

Also, some of you may have wondered about what seems to be the high carb content of our breakfasts, and a number of items that look like they aren’t so healthy.  Most of them call for eggs and or milk in the recipes, which balances the meal.  The eggs are often (though not always) free range, and the milk is raw.  We use freshly ground whole wheat flour and coconut oil for any shortening/oil that is called for.  Yes, there is still sweetening in some of the baked goods, but I try to minimize the sweeteners and use high quality alternatives when I can.

Have a great day!


Weekly menu plan

Here is this week’s menu – most dinners are supplemented by salads or cooked vegetables:

Sun: b – pancakes; d – chicken soup with rice

Mon: b- farmer’s breakfast casserole; l – lentils and rice; d – beef stir fry

Tues: b – biscuits and gravy; d – salmon patties, mashed potatoes

Wed: b – corn muffins; d – lasagna

Thurs: b – rice pudding; d – oat walnut burgers

Fri: b – banana bread; l – leftovers

Dh has a friend who is opening a new restaurant, and is having a ‘trial run’ tonight for friends before they officially open the doors this week.   We were invited, and though eating out isn’t my favorite activity (I have a hard time not thinking how much less the same dishes cost when I make them at home :)), I’m looking forward to an evening with dh, which we haven’t had for a while.


Husbands deserve our time, too

Yesterday I took the kids on a trip to a railroad museum, and the first person I saw when we walked in was a woman I had met several months ago.  At that point, we had spent something like an hour talking, as she has a large family and was beginning homeschooling.  As soon as she saw me, she came over and hugged me, and I ask her how things were going with homeschooling.

She told me that she’s exhausted, that she’s homeschooling literally from 8 am to 10 pm (for 5 kids plus a toddler) seven days a week.  I suggested that she might have taken on an overly intensive curriculum (it is – I warned her about the strong likelihood for burnout when she told me she wanted to use it) and she might want to consider making some adaptations to take the pressure off herself.  But she reassured me that she loved learning with her kids in this way, and it was just hard because there was familial discord.  I asked what that meant.  It turns out that she and dh are having a hard time getting along, and the night before she told him she wanted him to move out.

Was this something recent, I was wondering? No, it’s been like that for four years and now she just can’t take it anymore.  He is too negative and needy of her time and she just can’t spend that kind of time with him because all her energy is going into homeschooling the kids.

I think that too often we as moms get so busy taking care of our homes and children that we forget what position in our lives the relationship with our husbands should be.  There is nothing more important than a strong relationship between husbands and wives, for the two spouses and for the children.  That relationship needs to be the priority, even above our children.  Do you know how secure it makes a child feel to live in a home and know his parents truly love and care for one another?  Especially in today’s climate where so many of his friends’ parents are divorcing, and he doesn’t have to worry that one day he’ll end up split between two homes.

I’ve heard too many wives make not such joking comments about their husbands being like another child to take care of.  Husbands do have needs, emotional and physical needs.  So do wives – that doesn’t make any of us child-like; it makes us human.  Marriage is about giving to the other person, not about demanding that someone else be what we want them to be and squeeze into a tiny corner of our life and hearts.  Minimizing our husbands because we’ve become caught up in the demands of our busy lives and expecting them to live an emotionally independent life isn’t reasonable.  It’s taking them for granted and being disrespectful and emotionally cruel.  When men expect this of women, we all rush to condemn them in outrage.  But when women complain of husbands who take up ‘too much’ of their time, other women cluck their tongues in sympathy and then go on to share their ‘jokes’ about their own impossibly needy husbands.

This woman had to leave our conversation rather suddenly before we had a chance to finish because her young child needed the bathroom.  What I wanted to tell her was, don’t make homeschooling your children more important than your husband.  Don’t make him feel like he doesn’t matter in his own home.  Yes, the reasons she chose to homeschool her children are important – I love homeschooling and am passionate about the many benefits, but even providing your children with those benefits doesn’t justify letting your marital relationship break down for lack of nurturing.


Grain infestation

I recently bought some rice from a major supermarket that was infested with larvae.  How did I find this out?  Because I made a huge double recipe of stew using it, and saw something that looked like tiny worms in it when I stirred it.  Yuck, disgusting!  And really frustrating, to spend so much time and money making a really nice dish and have to throw it all away. 

But the frustration didn’t end there.  I had several other bags of rice that I bought at the same time, and since they were all sealed in their individual bags, I wasn’t worried about the infestation spreading.  I thought even if more than one bag was infested, I would check each bag before I used it and just throw it away if I saw any signs of anything; then there wouldn’t be a problem.  Unfortunately for me, I didn’t know that the larvae can eat through plastic after they hatch into moths.  :(  Two days ago I was dismayed to find several small white moths inside the cupboard downstairs (where all of this stuff was stored) – and discovered that everything in the cabinets was infested.  Even food items in an entirely different cabinet.  Crackers, boxes of oatmeal and grits, beans, lentils, grains – all needed to be thrown away.

If I had known the warning signs, I would have realized this rice was a problem while I was still in the store.  But I didn’t.  So I’m sharing this with you in case you have this situation and you won’t have to go through what I did.  I noticed a very tiny amount of webbing on the shelf underneath the rice, so I didn’t take the rice that was directly on top of it.  Now I now that once there’s a sign of infestation, you have to stay away from anything that’s been near it. 

 Yesterday I went to the supermarket where I bought the rice, to return what I got from there.  I planned to replace what I returned with new stock from the store.  When I went to the section where the rice and beans were stocked, I checked each individual bag – here’s what I looked for: webbing on the inside or outside of a bag, larvae pieces on the outside of the bags, tiny holes in the plastic.  I found most of the bags I looked at had tiny chew holes, so I decided not to frequent this supermarket for a while until their stock has been entirely replaced.  Checking the bags is pretty quick, and will save you from having to throw away lots of food once these insects get into it.  I also decided that I’ll freeze the grains overnight after buying them so that if anything is in it, it won’t be able to spread. 

I hope you won’t need this information any time soon!:)


This week’s menu

Every week I try to plan out the menu for the coming week.  This saves me lots of time since I don’t have to spend lots of time thinking about what to make at the last minute, or run out to buy an ingredient here or there.  Since I know at the beginning of the week what I’ll be making, I include it in my regular shopping trip.  This also saves money, since I don’t have to resort to costly convenience foods.  And maybe best of all, it adds to a relaxed home environment, since I’m not stressed out trying to think about what to make at the last minute, and the kids have regular healthy meals, which keeps them happier, too!

 Quite a while ago, I posted a sample menu, and at that time I received requests for more sample menus.  My menus change from week to week and season to season, but here is the menu for this week.  It takes into account a recent change I made, which is to cook an extra large amount for dinner so that it leaves me with plenty to serve for lunch the next day.  I did this since I was preparing three meals a day every day, and it was getting overly time consuming.  So the menu below only lists breakfast and dinner meals.

Sun – b – potatoes and shredded cheese; d – chili cornbread pie

Mon – b – cottage cheese pancakes; d – hot dog hash

Tues – b – eggs and potatoes; d – fish casserole

Wed – b – corn fritters; d – spinach and cheese calzones

Thur – b – pumpkin bread; d – lentil tomato soup

Fri – b – baked oatmeal

Friday night begins our weekend menu plan, so it’s not included here.


Late readers

When is the right age for a child to be taught to read?  I strongly believe that children learn something when they are ready, and not before, and that pushing before they are ready won’t help them be more ready.  My children have all independently taught themselves to read from the ages of 6 – 8, though some have taken to reading much more enthusiastically than others.

 Being that I love reading, you might expect me to be very disappointed that all of my kids don’t show equal excitement over reading.  But that’s not the case.  I expect all of my kids to love books, but I don’t expect them to love reading.  The visual learner clearly has a strong advantage when it comes to reading, and the child of mine who learned at the latest age was my auditory learner.  Even after she learned to read, she would periodically tell me that she hated reading, it was ‘boring’.  But she loved listening to me read out loud or to book on cd.  I recognized that her comprehension level was far higher than her reading ability, so the books she could read were so much below her interest that they really were boring.  So I waited for her reading level to catch up with her interest level, knowing that when she found something that she felt was worth reading, she would be motivated to read.

Well, that’s what happened.  Several months ago, I checked out a library book called Seven From Heaven, a book for adults about the McCaughey septuplets.  Every time she had a chance, I found her reading this book.  But she still insisted that most books were boring.  This week, though, things have shifted.  I checked out a fiction kids novel, about 200 pages long, and my child (now 11) who claims she doesn’t like reading and isn’t good at, finished it within two days.  This morning, she was halfway through another book by the same author, and had a pile of several other books on her lap while she read, that she planned to read next, and was very excited about them all.  I jokingly asked her, “Aren’t you the one who hates to read because it’s boring?!” 

My kinesthetic learner enjoys non fiction books about areas that interest him, like sports history and investing, and has often spent hours at a time engrossed in a book.  Even when the vocabulary is so unfamiliar that he has to work hard to figure out the concepts (like the time he was reading about different technical ways to finance the purchase of real estate), he isn’t discouraged.  At the same time, he has trouble with the assigned fiction reading in high school and usually can’t tell you what he read after he finishes the assignment.  Does that make him a bad reader?  Of course not – people usually don’t easily spend time on an activity that has no intrinsic value or interest to them. 

Why am I sharing this with you?  Because it’s too easy as parents to get caught up in our child’s accomplishments, or lack of accomplishments, and forget that every child has his own internal timeline that will determine what he does and when he does it.  By recognizing that kids are different, and accepting that they progress in various areas at different times, we can save ourselves and our children alot of heartache.  


Swaddling babies

This post is one I’ve been wanting to write for over four weeks now! 

Before my 18 month old was born, a friend lent me a book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, that detailed the benefits of swaddling.  I liked what he had to say about a baby feeling more cozy and secure when swaddled, but when the baby was born, I just couldn’t seem to successfully swaddle him and keep him swaddled – an arm always seemed to be poking up a minute after I wrapped him. So after trying a number of times and not having any success, I gave it up.

Fast forward 17 months.  The day after this baby was born, a friend gave me a swaddling blanket, and it has been fantastic!  I really marvel at what a difference it makes when the baby is swaddled and when he isn’t.  He sleeps much longer, and cries much less.  Three nights ago, the swaddler went into the wash.  I was waiting for it to be washed, and didn’t use it for the first night.  The baby was awake at least six times that night.  The next night, I still didn’t see the swaddler in the clean clothes basket, so again, I couldn’t use it.  The same thing – he slept fitfully and woke up a number of times.  Yesterday afternoon, I mentioned to one of my girls that I really needed the swaddler, and she told me it had been put away in his drawer with his clean clothes two days before!  Anyway, last night was sooo wonderful – he slept all night with just one early morning feeding.  This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen a noticeable difference when he’s swaddled properly. 

We’ve swaddled him at times during the day when he was crying, and he stopped right away.  I told my husband that seeing the difference makes me wonder what our other babies would have been like if swaddled, since I would classify this baby (when swaddled :)) as calm and easy going.  I’ve had my share of very challenging babies!

 So is the magic in the special blanket?  No, I don’t think so.  But I do think that it makes it much easier to do, especially since most baby blankets aren’t the right size or material to use as swaddlers.  My 7 yod prefers to swaddle him with a regular baby blanket, and she’s much better at wrapping him than I am!  But for me, the swaddler has been a lifesaver.