Friday, July 31, 2009

A Month of Meals

We started meal planning years ago. Starting slowly with weekly planning and then shopping accordingly. Buying what we needed to make what we wanted to eat. It did not take long to figure out that this was a very expensive way to meal plan. We ended up with food going bad in the fridge and freezer. I would often forget what we had in the pantry and we were always buying new things to make the meals.

Along came the wonderful inventory. Not a new idea but new to us. About two years ago we started taking a monthly inventory. Some months we are great at it and some we just eyeball what we have. We take an inventory of the pantry, the fridge, and the freezer. Some people keep a running inventory list and cross things off as they use it but I found that too hard with little ones. Seems my list was always disappearing from its ever so convenient spot on the fridge. So monthly it became.

Once we have our inventory I look at the list and write down what meat we have for meals. This months list looked like this:
Ground Turkey 1
Pork Chops 5 lunches
Ground Beef 9
Turkey 1
Beef 4 dinner 1 lunch
Drumsticks 6

What do the numbers mean? In the case of ground beef it means 9 pieces. We buy in bulk and freeze it pre portioned. One portion is enough for a meal where beef is not the centerpiece (like tacos) and two portions a meal where it is the centerpiece (like Southwest Skillet Pie). Drumsticks are also pre packaged so I have 6 packages. Other meats are usually 1 dinners worth.

After this list is done I look at what I have in my pantry that I can combine to make meals with. The list now looks like this:
Ground Turkey Burgers
Pasta x2
French Dip
SW Skillet Pie
Sloppy Joes
Turkey Sandwiches
Vegetable Soup (making broth from the turkey)

I then get onto my computer and print out a monthly calendar. I tried using a calendar in a sheet protector with a wet erase marker once and by the end of week one my entire meal calendar was smudged and wiped off! Its hard enough to make a months worth of meals but to do it twice! Back to paper and pen we went.

Next I look at the calendar and take note of what days Joe is home late, days we have something planned that will make dinner late, and days that Joe is available to cook things I do not like to cook. This month it so happens that Joe and the two older kids are gone from the 11th to the 16th at the fair. So these days I only need meals for me, a three year old, and a 17 month old. So I added some easy meals to the list:
Oatmeal and toast (the three year olds favorite thing to eat)
Chicken Strips
Baked Potatoes with beans and cheese

As I come up with meals I write them into the calendar square for that date. Meals that require a lot of prep or things I can't do when the kids are hanging on my legs (like fry chicken!) are put to the weekends, easy meals are added to the days mentioned above, other meals are added to the rest of the days. As I come up with meals I ask the kids what they want for dinner this month that way they feel included in the meal planning. I usually hear "Pancakes!!" and "I don't care." I tried right?

I have food that I buy every month or two in bulk so I know as I plan meals these things will be in my pantry. Some of these things are:
All kinds of beans
Chicken breasts
Tomato Sauce and Diced Tomatoes
Perishable staples of course. Milk, fruit, vegis, dairy products.

My meal calendar now has 32 meals on it. One for today which is the last day of July. Here they are in order from beginning of the calendar to end:
French Dip
Turkey Sandwiches
Enchilada (vegi)
Vegetable Bean soup
Pizza on the grill
Beef Kabobs
Ground Turkey Burgers
Chicken Salad
Chicken Strips
Potatoes with beans and cheese
SW Skillet Pie
Vegetable Lentil soup
Pizza on the grill
Chicken Kabobs
Chicken and bean burritos
Chickpea Stew with rice
Vegetable Chili over potatoes
Beef Roast with roasted garden vegis
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Sloppy Joes

This is a larger than normal meat month as we had a bit of beef in the freezer I wanted to get rid of. We are blueberry picking soon and need the freezer space. :) We try and do half meat and half vegetarian meals. Looks like this month is 10 no meat meals. For sides we use what is in the freezer, pantry, or garden and when needed I buy one or two bags of bulk frozen vegis at the beginning of the month. I also buy brown rice and other grains when needed in bulk. Baking supplies are also bought in bulk as needed: flours, sugar, etc.

Lunches and breakfast have no plan on the calendar. We have a few things that we eat regularly and just rotate between them. Joe usually takes his lunch and we either cook more of something or make plans out of extra stuff in the freezer specifically for him.

Our breakfasts look something like this:
Yogurt and toast
Cereal, fruit, sometimes toast
Eggs and toast, eggs in toast, eggs in every way you can imagine
Breakfast burritos or breakfast pizzas
Smoothies and toast

Lunches look something like this:
PB and J or PB and honey
Burritos, nachos, tacos
Leftover day (kids love this one)
Noodles with parm cheese
PB and banana wraps or some other wrap
Mini pizzas- Usually made with whatever I have on hand. Tortillas, muffins, french bread.
Large snack plate with crackers, a protein, and some fruit/vegis and dip.

We sometimes have dessert after lunch rather than dinner so that the sugar can get worn off. Lately its been frozen berries mixed in a food processor to make Granita (ice crystals) and mixed with real whipping cream. Sometimes its cookies or whatever.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Prayers Please

Yesterday a friend of mine, N, took her son, M, in for an MRI. I am not going to go into details as its not my story to tell but please send prayers over the next few weeks for healing. Keep N, M (age 3), the rest of her family in your thoughts as M goes into surgery on Saturday. Please pray for the surgeons and the staff.

I cannot even begin to imagine what N is going through. My heart is aching right now and its not even my child. M is one of the most adorable little boys you will ever meet! So please keep them in your prayers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

No clothes? Make some!

Madeline had nothing to wear this morning. So instead of digging through the dirty laundry for something semi clean I decided to make her a new skirt. I had it cut just have not had the time to sew it yet. Its a little big in the waist but otherwise looks great. I'm really glad she chose this fabric. It turned out really nice.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Home Audit {Disposables}

Day two of the Home Audit at Down to Earth Blog.

Again Rhonda's questions are bolded and my thoughts are in italics.

Some things to think about:

Are you ready to stop buying disposables?
We currently try to minimize our purchases of disposable products. Two years ago we stopped buying paper napkins and paper towels. I made us napkins and cleaning rags/towels instead. Old prefold diapers work great for cleaning up large liquid messes and spills. Three years ago (once we had our own washer and dryer) we started cloth diapering. We use family cloth (cloth tp) for #1 only. I just can't bring myself to do this with #2 and Joe will have no part in it.. We have 2 females using the potty at this point and eventually it will be 4 females so this is a lot of toilet paper. I have noticed a small change in the amount of tp we use. This is also easy to wash as I just dump the pail in the washer when I wash a load of baby diapers.
What we are saving:
Diapers- 1 case of diapers a month for Naomi about $35 (at Costco)
1 case of diapers every two months for Marah about $35 (at Costco)
Naomi is using most of the same diapers that Marah wore as a baby so we have not had to spend any more to outfit her in diapers.
Paper towels and napkins- We used to buy a case of paper towels about every one and a half months. We used to use these for napkins as well. At Costco these are about $18 a case (I think, its been a while since I bought these lol).
One thing I would like to work on is cloth wipes for diapering. I have enough currently made and love how much nicer they are to clean baby bottoms with. I do have a toddler who has some tummy issues and the well shall we say the consistency has made cleaning up rather unappealing. We used to use the cloth wipes and I am going to make a conscious effort to do this again. This will save us about $18 a month on a case of baby wipes.
If you are, use up what you have at home, and start preparing rags and making napkins and dishcloths and whatever else you want to try. Remember, there is no guilt in the audit. If you can't let these things go now, promise yourself you'll think about it again later in the year. You might be ready then. These activities make a powerful statement - for the environment, for your purse and for the life you intend to live.

Home Audit {Food}

I am a little behind on the Biggest Kitchen Table Home Audit over at Down to Earth. The first topic is food. Go and read Rhonda's post here.

This is a list from the post at Down to Earth. They are bolded with my answers and thoughts below each one in itallics. I have deleted the questions that I feel did not apply to my family.

Things to think about:

Menu planning - this works for some families and not others.
I find meal planning to be essential for my family. When we forget to meal plan I end up buying things we have and spending way over our grocery budget for the month. We start out meal plan at the end of the month by taking a freezer, fridge, and pantry inventory. Ideally this is the time I also clean these things out but sometimes the cleaning part just does not happen. Once I know what we have I meal plan from our stores first. Then I make a list of what we need. There are main staples we buy each month and I check if we have those items in the inventory lists. At the begginning our meal plan looks something like 4 chicken meals, 5 beef dinners, 4 beef lunches, 3 hanburger meals, 2 pasta, etc. Then we make a meal plan of actual dinners for the week. Each week we plan the actual dinners. This way I can take into account things such as what is growing in the garden and the weather. I do not want to plan to make soup and fresh bread on a day that is 90 plus degrees. :) We do one large monthly shopping trip at Costco and then weekly smaller trips for dairy items and produce/fruit.

If you're growing food, how do you intend to use your excess?

I enjoy canning as much as I can. We also freeze excess. This year I am going to try dehydrating some things.

Have you minimised food waste?

This is an area we need to work on. Seems something is always going bad in the back of the fridge. My goal is to clean the fridge out every two to three days and have a leftover lunch with the kids. We have done this sporadically in the past and they always love it. Add some fresh vegis or cut fruit to the leftovers and we have a fast and easy lunch that helps us waste less.

Skills - learn to preserve/can, blanch and freeze, bake, sprout, ferment, fruit cordials.

I currently know how to can and preserve. We do blanch and freeze things. Love baking. I know almost nothing about sprouting and fermenting so this is an area I can look into. I made my first fruit cordial the other day and am very excited to see how it turns out.

Make a space in your cupboard to store recycled bottles and jars.

I love using recycled jars and bottles. Most of our spices are bought in bulk and we use recycled jars to store them. I think it looks neat in the spice rack. The kids even use them as glasses.

Do I have enough good cooked from scratch recipes to cover a two week meal rotation?
Do I have a good selection of quick and easy fast meal recipes?

Combining these two questions. A project that I have been working on in the last few months is a K Family Cookbook. I photocopied all of our favorite recipes and am in the process of making one master cookbook. I was able to clear so much space in my cupboard when I cleared out all the cookbooks. I will post photos of the cookbook when it is finished. Probably in the next month or two. We have A LOT of recipes we use.

If you're composting, do you have a covered container for your kitchen scraps?

I do have a container for compost. With the changes we are going through (see previous spewing of sorts post) I may need to get rid of the composter. I will keep it for now as I am sure I can sell or give it away easily when needed.

Do you need to make food covers for bread, ginger beer, sourdough, yoghurt?
Do you have enough dishcloths and tea towels/dish towels?

This is actually something on my to do list. As well as more cloth napkins ours are getting ratty.

Do you have enough large glass or plastic storage containers?

Last month I found one of the local grocery stores sell their food safe buckets from the bakery for only $1. I went and got at least 10 of them and picked some up for some friends too. I have 5 gallon, 2 gallon, and 3 gallon ones. Currently I use them in the pantry to store flour, sugar, salt, whole wheat flour, and several in the garage for animal feed. I was planning on buying a large garbage can for the chicken feed to keep out mice. I figured that one bag of feed will fill two buckets. As the garbage cans were about $20 the $2 for buckets seemed a much better deal to me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Simple Home Audit

I thought it would be fun to join Rhonda Jean from Down to Earth in her Simple Home Audit over the next week. You can click on the photo above to go directly to the blog post.

Here is some of what she has to say about it from her blog:

Who will join us in our simple home audit? This will be a no guilt audit. We all have past mistakes we'd rather forget about. The aim of this audit is to keep us on track, or, for some of us, to start living more simply. We will just take stock, make adjustments, move towards a fresh beginning and get on with it.
Each day for a week, I will set a simple task to be completed. They won't take long so those of you working outside the home can join in or save the tasks for your days off. We will start tomorrow. Today I want you to add your name if you want to be included in this task. If you wish to, please capture the badge at the top of this post so you can show what you're doing on your own blog. Who will join us?

A Child's Garden

Each kid that is old enough to understand gets a garden here. I don't care what they plant, if they weed, if they thin, or if they plant and then use it as a mud hole for digging. Its their space. They are not really big at about 2 feet by 3 feet each but the kids don't seem to mind and they really enjoy having their own space.

This year was Marah's first garden. I let her go mad in last years seed that I did not want and I am betting she planted at least a hundred seeds in her little piece of land. And I'll be darned if all 100 didn't grow. This was the first year I actually snuck some work in one of their gardens when they were not looking. I thinned and thinned and thinned and thinned and still have not seemed to make a dent. The peas and beans grew like mad. Then the sunflowers came out of the jungle. Next the carrots made their space. There is corn, zucchini, and pumpkins, and tomatoes, and who even knows what else. Every time I am out there I find something new. It is now spilling over into my carrots and cabbages.

Marah's Garden on April 21, 2009. The bunch in the middle is snap peas.

Today, July 1, 2009.

Not sure what this is blooming. Found it today while I was weeding my cabbages. I think its either yellow squash or zucchini.

Garden Update {July 2009}

A photo update of our little "farm" as the kids like to call it.

First year blueberries. We are renting so I did not want to plant these in the ground to either leave them or dig them up. They are doing well. A lot of blooms that I picked off this spring to help produce healthy plants.

The apple tree. I am not going to show the entire tree as well its been butchered. The landlord told Joe to cut off anything growing sideways, well he did, as far as he could reach any way. So the tree has 4 straight up branches with nothing on them until about 8 feet up or so then its like a mass of apples and branches. I think a pruning class will be most helpful once we have our own trees.

The garden is doing wonderful. So many things are blooming and getting ready to grow us some wonderful veggies.
Zucchini blooms.

Cabbage. I have never grown cabbage so not sure if this looks good or not. lol
Snap peas are producing like mad. More than we can eat and frankly I am sick of them. A lot will be blanched and frozen for later. These are still looking good though have been blown over twice now by heavy winds. I can't get them to upright themselves again so am just letting them lean.

Cherry tomatoes!!!

Another plant I have never grown. A tomatillo. It has tons of flowers right now so hoping for the best.
Carrots. We have been thinning and eating the small ones. So yummy!!

What We Have Been Up To: June 2009

Its been another busy month here. A quick update to let you know what we have been up to.

Visiting Great Grandma's and Grandma Karen's. The creek.

I love this tree in Great Grandma's front yard. I used to play under it in the summers. There is almost no traffic in this end of the highway (literally) town. I spent many summers coloring the road and bike riding here.

Grandma Karen with the older two kids exploring the creek.

All the kids throwing rocks. Naomi climbed right in and sat down in the water.

Marah tired of rock throwing quickly so we joined Great Grandma on the bench overlooking the creek and lake. Her house is in the background on the right. Her "boyfriend" lives next door. lol It is a good thing she does not have internet access cause she would not be pleased with me about this.

We got a really large egg one day and this is what was inside!! A triple yolk.

A recent activity in the backyard. We filled socks with cornstarch and sprinkled them in different spots to find spiderwebs. It was a lot of fun.

Uncle Robbie came to visit and brought Flower Girl shirts for the youngest, a Ring Guard shirt for Michael (its the camo one above), and Maddy's Jr. Bridesmaid shirt is on the way.

Michael dug a hole in the digging spot. Nomy likes it I think. :)

We met M, L, and E at the zoo. The kids playing in the grassy area after lunch.

This is L. Joe's "mom", isn't she beautiful. Maddy took all the zoo pics.

E making a goofy face. Some how we have no pictures of M.
We played in the grass.
Lots of grass.

The grass is always greener on the other side, at least to the chickens.
They also had some fingers. I think they think hers are worms. I keep hoping she will learn soon but she does this over and over and over. They do not break skin or anything but I am sure it is not a pleasant feeling.
Nomy has helped herself to most of our strawberry harvest this year. She eats them stem and all.
The reason for the lack of June updates. Yeah typing was not easy, or cutting, or diapers, or well anything.
Another zoo trip just me and the kids this time. Self portrait by Maddy.

Its been a while

So this was me, well part of me, all last week. Being right handed this was not fun. lol I pulled or tore something and had to wear the brace for about 10 days. Have you ever chopped carrots left handed? I do not reccomend it, well unless you are left handed that is. So much has been going on and I have wanted to blog but alas it was not happening. Now that the brace is off I am ready to blog again. Look for new posts coming up soon.