Eat Well, Spend Less

Eat Well, Spend Less

Eat Well, Spend Less: Time-saving kitchen tips

Eat Well, Spend Less series

Serve nutritious and delectable meals, have fun in the kitchen, and do it with limited time? This month the Eat Well, Spend Less team wrote about time-saving kitchen tips, and we're thrilled to be hosting giveaways for Jessica Fisher's book Not Your Mother's Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook!

Posts you don't want to miss:

How to save time and money grocery shopping :: What, not everyone has a husband who will do the grocery shopping for them? ;) I don't always enjoy grocery shopping but Jessica's tips will help! Enter her book giveaway here.

Save time on kitchen prep work :: Do it now, make extras, add it to your Sunday "to-do"s: Mandi has the scoop on food prep efficiency in a home kitchen!

5 crazy ways to save on kitchen prep time :: Katie K. has some great simple ways to save time! Enter her book giveaway here.

Time-saving kitchen tips :: Katie G. shares her favorite shortcuts in the kitchen. Enter her book giveaway here.

Slow-cooker to the rescue :: Amy reminds me to not let the Crock Pot gather dust in the cupboard. ;) Enter her book giveaway here.

9 tips for spending less time at the kitchen sink :: Dishes! Love these tips from Carrie on the routine, mundane, and ever-growing pile of dirty dishes at home. Enter her book giveaway here.

On batch cooking :: Aimee gives us tips on smart batch cooking techniques

5 ways to save time making family dinners :: Family dinners are a Big Deal to me, and Shaina shares her tricks for making them happen. Enter her book giveaway here.

And, if you missed it this week: My morning routine and a cookbook giveaway (enter here)! :)

My Morning Routine and a Freezer Cookbook giveaway! (Eat Well, Spend Less)

My morning and evening routines are what keep me going these days, it seems. Oh, I have to smile when I get emails like this one from my friend Maleesa:

How do you balance working out, cleaning, making meals, home schooling, blogging and lots more? I find that I have to force myself away from the computer and say I will do things and reward myself to get computer time. Do you have a limit of time? Or just when you have time? Or do you give only cetain times for it?

Honestly? It's as simple as doing the most important things first. And when something doesn't get done that day, I just let it go. Sometimes I let the cleaning go for a bit, and then I suddenly get fed up with the mess or dirt and that anger fuels a fast and furious cleaning or organizing event! Often, I make a "to do" list and then divide the chores among all of us.

I don't have a computer time limit, and that works for me because I am usually quite happy to leave it turned off and do other things. That doesn't work so well for blogging, but currently I am putting homeschooling, family time, exercise, and sleep ahead of blogging. I think I would go insane if I tried to blog while home alone with 5 kids! Then Joshua comes home and we like hanging out together in the evenings. :)

And then it's bed time. I've become a big baby about having to function on less than 8 hours of sleep; I much prefer mornings when my alarm goes (at 5am) and I get up feeling refreshed and ready to start the day.

Moshe (2)
Moshe (2) is often awake in the morning before I am!

So what do I do? I've really pared down to a few basics. My morning and evening routines keep me going and my kitchen happy. :)

Every evening:

Load and run dishwasher
Hang wet dish cloth(s) up to dry
Fill the Berkey with water
Open the (finished) dishwasher and shake water off the dishes

Every morning:

Put away clean dishes
Get out a fresh dish cloth
Serve breakfast

If I can keep these routines going (and I usually can!), we have plenty of clean, dry dishes (with minimal effort), non-stinky dish rags, and filtered drinking water. :)

Our breakfasts are often oatmeal in the microwave, bananas, or eggs and toast. After breakfast, we get started right away on school. School, school. Right now it takes a portion of my day and an even bigger portion of my energy!

Which is one of the reasons I was so excited to receive this book in the mail last week:

Jessica Fisher, the great lady behind Life As Mom and Good {Cheap} Eats, has a new cookbook full of awesome recipes and freezer tips! I'm picky about freezer meals, but I know I am going to LOVE trying her freezer meal recipes and suggestions. Jessica includes an extensive grocery list and various meal plan options for making a big freezer cooking day of it, but I'll just be trying recipes here and there as the fancy strikes, doubling the recipes and freezing extras.

Not Your Mother's Make-Ahead & Freeze Cookbook is nearly 400 pages and a bargain for ~$11 on Amazon. I vastly prefer a bound and printed book to the e-book format, and this cookbook comes in nice quality paper. (There's also a Kindle edition available.) I was given a copy to keep in exchange for doing this giveaway.

Giveaway: One person will win their own copy of Jessica's new book! Leave a comment on this post letting me know you'd like to be entered. (Be sure to include a way for me to contact you if you win.) Winner will be announced on Monday, October 22, 2012.

Eat Well, Spend Less series

This post is part of the Eat Well, Spend Less series! I'll be back with more from this series in a couple days! :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Summer produce tips (Eat Well, Spend Less)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

Last night, I forgot I had 5 kids ages 8 and under, and I made a to-do list for today:

Cook beans
Give girls baths
Wash sheets
Clean rug (that Moshe squirted soap onto... 2 weeks ago...) and hang to dry
Do school (3 kids)
Send card to my brother
Weed flower beds
Walk to the library
Laundry
Dishes
Make dinner
Order photo prints
Write Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

Sounds reasonable, right? I wasn't including breakfast or lunch, 12 diaper changes, lots of baby-holding and nursing, and a general lethargy induced by a very messy house. :O

Only half of my list got done today, and it wasn't even the fun stuff. :P I guess that's a good thing though -- it means the fun stuff (like walking to the library!) is left for tomorrow. :D

Last week I shared 10 Easy Ways to Eat More Veggies. That night, I served grilled burgers for dinner. The only side dish was a bowl of fresh cherries. I'm sounding more and more like superwoman, aren't I? ;)

So, I'm not sharing any revolutionary kitchen tips this week. Instead, let me point you to some great tips from the Eat Well, Spend Less team:

Tips for using your CSA share (or any good produce sales!) from Life As Mom

Jessica has appealing and practical tips as usual!

Ways to use zucchini from Life...Your Way

I love zucchini and pretty much ALL of those zucchini dishes look amazing to me!

Fermenting your own vegetables from Kitchen Stewardship

Katie gives step-by-step photos and instructions for making kimchi (and more).

Garden-fresh pepper salsa from Kingdom First Mom

Salsa is a great way to use fresh fruits or veggies!

Sweet Cherry Plum Jam from Simple Bites

Anything Aimee cooks is something I'd love to be eating. :)

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link in a comment here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please! 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. Freezing and storing berries (Whole New Mom)
2. Tip for vintage recipes (Trial and Error Home Ec)
3. Resources for what's in season (The Local Cook)
4. Peeling fresh tomatoes (Mamal Diane)
5. 5 Ways to Make Healthy Choices Less Painful (Feel Good About Dinner)
6. Freezing mushrooms (Recipes Happen)
7. Extra use from the coffee grinder (Simply Made Home)
8. Real food snack tips (Simply Made Home)
9. Composting ideas (Living So Abundantly)
10. Spices (Sunny Side Homestead)
11. Potatoes in the crock pot (Wholesome Homemaker)

10 Easy Ways to Eat More Veggies (Eat Well, Spend Less)

Fresh veggies

Vegetables! We all know they're good for the body, and summer is the perfect time to make sure we're eating plenty of vegetables. Here are my tips and tricks for making sure my family gets their fill of veggies!


Veggie sticks and homemade hummus (from the freezer)

1. Prep ahead. This one is key: Make sure your fridge is stocked with ready-to-eat veggies. Whether this means cutting carrot sticks by the bag-full or buying baby carrots, do what it takes. Celery, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, and sugar snap peas are some of our favorite fresh vegetables. Have your favorites ready so when you're hungry, you grab them.

Tip: My boys (8 and 6) love to help me peel carrots or make veggie sticks! And kids love eating food that they're helped grow or prepare, so that's an added motivation to get them in the kitchen and involved.

Plan Ahead for Healthy Snacks

5 Ways to Make Food Prep More Fun

Salads for the week: Making time for healthy eating

11 Tips for Kids in the Kitchen Without Losing Your Sanity

Guacamole ingredients
Ingredients for Creamy Guacamole

2. Give fewer options at meal times or snack times, and include veggies. If you serve a dinner of three different foods, you'll end up eating more of each item than if you serve five foods. Unless you're serving several vegetable dishes, limit the choices for everyday dinners and snacks and your children will surprise you by eating more -- because they're still hungry! :)

Tip: Only buy/offer healthy snacks and if they're hungry, that's what they'll eat.

Dill dip
Veggie sticks with Dill Dip

3. Have a 1-bite rule. If certain family members don't like vegetables, require at least 1 bite of the vegetable being served, especially if you're offering dessert. Our children don't get dessert unless they have eaten each of the "regular" foods.

Tip: For foods they like, such as carrot or celery sticks, we often use their age as a requirement for what they should eat. E.g. the 8-year-old needs to eat 8 pieces, the 4-year-old only 4. If they're not hungry enough to eat that, then they don't get dessert (if we're having dessert). Left to their own ways, they would surely be "too full" for the veggies and hungry for treats or snacks later! ;)

4. Serve main dish salads.

Tip: My family likes it when I make main dish salads but don't combine everything. Joshua then makes his own salad, adding some extra meat or protein. The kids often have their "salads" as piles of separate ingredients on their plates and prefer to eat it that way rather than mixed together. I make my salad more along the lines of the original recipe. In the end, we're all satisfied and had fun eating dinner together. :)

5. Make soup; sneak them in. I'm not about being sneaky in the kitchen (Joshua's nose and eyes are much too keen for that!) but I've found that it's easy for us to eat bowl after bowl of vegetable soup or another healthy soup filled with veggies.

Other recipes can handle having a few extra veggies thrown in as well, especially if it's something in season and you're bursting at the seams with extras! :)

6. Serve and eat the veggies first at meal times. We like to serve small portions of the main dish with a hearty helping of vegetables, and the plate needs to be completely cleared before second-helpings of the main dish are given. This should be done age-appropriately, of course; our children almost always clean their plates and have seconds of whatever they liked best.

7. Serve veggies at every meal and every dinner. Having pizza? Serve veggies or a salad on the side. Don't let one-dish meals with a few veggies buried beneath cheese sauce or gravy be the only vegetable you serve at dinner!

Tip: Cook some frozen veggies, make a salad, or pull out your already-prepped raw veggies for a fast, healthy side dish. You'll eat less pizza that way, too. ;)

Chicken Squash Bake recipe
Chicken Squash Bake: one of our seasonal favorites that's on our menu this week!

8. Eat what's in season for the best quality. Vegetables are best when they're at their freshest, so eat what's in season (often also on sale!) or ready in your garden. This helps get some natural variety in your vegetable intake, as well.

Tip: Buy frozen veggies and mix for variety; buy frozen stir-fry veggies for a pre-done mixture that's a cinch to cook and serve.

Stir-fry veggies
Costco's Stir-Fry Vegetable Blend: Preheat cast iron skillet over medium-high heat; add oil and frozen veggies. Sprinkle with salt and sesame seeds. Stir frequently and saute until crisp-tender. Serve with grilled or baked fish, chicken, or meat of your choice!

9. Get creative with how you're serving your veggies. Don't just boil or steam them. Boil, steam, grill outside, saute on the stove top, or roast in the oven for more variety and flavor!

Tabbouleh
Tabbouleh, one of my top favorite summer salads

10. Find veggie alternatives for a less-healthful ingredient. Instead of serving tacos in flour tortillas, serve them in iceberg lettuce leaves or artisan lettuce "cups". Instead of stuffing tuna salad into a pita, serve it over a green salad. Load up that omelet with diced tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers and cut back the cheese.

Tip: If your family's not on board with lettuce cup taco tortillas, remember: you can serve everything separately and they can pick and choose. Maybe they'll want to try one after they see you enjoying yours! :)

Eat Well, Spend Less series

This post is part of the Eat Well, Spend Less series! I'll be back with more from this series in a couple days! :)

Tips for Summer Picnics (Eat Well, Spend Less)

I love picnics!

Yes, the frugal part of me is why I am constantly saying "Hey, guys, let's just do a picnic."

That sounds more fun than saying "Since it's expensive to eat out, I'm going to pack some food for us." ;)

Whatever you call it, I love take-along food. It's a whole lot cheaper than eating out, plus being yummy, healthy, and on-demand. Here are some picnic tips that work for us!

Porch picnic

Bring enough food, but not too much. This is especially important if you're carrying your picnic with you while you sight-see on foot or hike. I ask the older family members how much food they want (how many sandwiches, pieces of fruit, etc.) and try to take just what we'll eat. The eliminates needing to tote around leftovers or keep them cold.

Re-usable dinnerware

Use disposable wrappings/plates if you're carrying everything; use re-usable containers if weight isn't an issue. I freely admit that I use plastic wrap, sandwich baggies, and paper napkins for an on-foot picnic! If we're packing a big cooler and driving somewhere in the van, then I'll use my normal re-usable containers and some washable plates. (I have extra plastic plates purchased for large crowds, bbqs, and picnics!)

Summer picnic walk

Take finger foods so you don't even need dinnerware! Our favorite picnics are finger foods like:

Sandwiches
Veggie sticks
Pre-washed/cut fruit like grapes, apple slices, pear slices, or bananas
Cheese sticks or slices
Nuts
Chips

I like to pack serving-size baggies of the veggies, fruits, or nuts so no little dirty hands are reaching into one big bag. ;)

And speaking of dirty...

Don't forget a clean tablecloth (if picnicking at a table) and some wet wipes or washcloths for dirty hands! :)

We also like to have at-home picnics on the deck or in the yard. Eating out in the sunshine and fresh air makes the kids (and me!) happy while keeping the kitchen floor clean. The benefit of an at-home picnic is that I can serve most anything -- like leftovers, even -- with no extra effort. :)

Eat Well, Spend Less series

This week, the Eat Well, Spend Less bloggers are writing about summer fun! Check out:

Eat Well, Spend Less During a Staycation from Life As Mom

Grilled Salads from Simple Bites

Sprouted Lentil Salad Recipe and Dressings from Kitchen Stewardship

Easy and Tasty Summertime Snacks from Kingdom First Mom

Eat Well, Spend Less During Your Insane Summer Schedule from Food for my Family

...and more to come from Denver Bargains and Good Life Eats!

11 Tips for Kids in the Kitchen Without Losing Your Sanity (Eat Well, Spend Less)

I spend a lot of my day in the kitchen (not just cooking, though; we do school there too) and I have 5 children. There's always something to be done, and there's always someone ready to help! Often the 2-year-old, of course. ;)

Here are my tips for having kids in the kitchen without going crazy! (Plus, a podcast at the end about cooking with small children.)

Allow plenty of time

Unless your children are older and already somewhat trained in the kitchen (in which case you don't need to worry about losing your sanity while they "help"!), having little helpers is probably going to mean that your work goes more slowly and you'll actually get less done than you would if you were working alone.

This is all right though, since having young children help in the kitchen is more about building relationships and teaching them life skills than getting more done.

Allow plenty of time if at all possible, so your work can be enjoyed and there isn't the pressure of running behind or needing to work as quickly as possible.

Hurrying is a recipe for mistakes, frustration with others, and even physical injury like a cut finger. For some reason when I'm in a hurry I end up clogging the garbage disposal or cutting a finger, which of course takes extra time right when I'm trying to be fastest!

Don't spread yourself too thin

Don't plan too many projects at once. Alone, I can do several things at a time in the kitchen. However, this takes my full concentration and means I need to work quickly.

Having helpers (more like "trainees"!) means I will be getting distracted and need to stop to explain things, wait for something that is being done at 1/2 or 1/4 the speed I would do it myself, or clean up messes that I would never have made alone. ;)

Keep it relaxed by not biting off more than you (and your helpers) can "chew".

Have fun sharing your cool kitchen "power tools"

If your kitchen is anything like mine, you've got some "power tools" that will fascinate your kids! If it plugs in or has buttons it's probably super exciting to your little ones. Here are some of the tools in my kitchen and what my children love about them:

Bread machine -- has buttons for settings (I tell my helpers which ones to press for me!) and if I leave the lid open while it mixes, someone will surely want to look inside and watch it knead the dough for a while. Kids can also add the ingredients to the pan, of course.

Mixer -- Kids of all ages love turning things on! I just have a small hand mixer (no stand mixer), so for little ones I let them turn it on and help me hold it. Older kids can operate the mixer alone. When I was a child, I remember enjoying making swirls and designs in batter as I mixed it. It's just fun!

Microwave -- We were given a nice microwave when we moved from our apartment to a house with a bigger (much bigger!) kitchen. I have taught the children to use it (with supervision), reminding them that it's a tool and not a toy. They LOVE to press the buttons for me! It's a practical way to learn numbers, minutes, seconds, and practice following directions. It's just so exciting to get to press a button that makes a "beep!"

Blender -- Again, I have the kids add things and press buttons for me. They also like to watch the blender as it works.

Grain mill -- When I use my grain mill, everyone comes running to watch. There's something fascinating about watching grain slowly feed into the machine as it runs.

Kitchen scale -- This one isn't too exciting, but it does have buttons and my older boys have fun weighing things. It's a good practical tool for learning about weights and units of measurement (grams, ounces, pounds, kilograms). Sometimes we take guesses before weighing random objects, and see who guessed the closest to its weight!

Have fun yourself

Is your list of kitchen "power tools" exciting to you? It should be! Are you excited about what you're cooking or doing in the kitchen? You should be!

Instead of thinking in terms of chores or work or getting things done, try to enjoy the process and be excited with your children -- or show them a cheerful attitude when they don't really want to help, which happens when they're older and much more likely to actually be helpful... ;)

Try to think of how your young child views the task at hand. Something as simple as putting a freezer meal in the freezer can involve using a marker, tape, and opening the freezer. Making cookies can involve stirring (or mixing) and chocolate chips. Using a can of something can mean removing a label, washing the top, and dumping it in. What child doesn't love to rip off paper labels from cans? :)

Work with them, but let them do the fun parts

Did you know that dumping ingredients into a bowl or stock pot is more fun than measuring or chopping? That getting to do that first stir -- before anything's been mixed together -- is the best part of stirring? That sampling a soup to see if the seasonings need adjusted is like having a snack before dinner and your hungry toddler would love to sample it with you?

Cooking involves boring tasks sometimes, so make sure you're letting your children do some of the funnest parts for you or with you!

Accept less than perfect

It will not be done just like you would do it (usually). It may be slower, sloppier, or less beautiful. That's okay! Don't re-do everything just so it looks perfect.

Cook, then clean the floor

The floor, ahhhh, the floor! With helpers in the kitchen, the floor ends up being the dirtiest part. This should be a no-brainer, but it seriously took me a couple years with small helpers to figure it out. Cook first, clean the floor later. It matters less what gets spilled or dropped!

Teach them to clean up their messes

My kids are very familiar with tools like a broom and dustpan or my vacuum cleaner. They also know how to mop. (They love the rags-under-their-feet method, especially when I let them spray the floor with cleaner! Spraying = fun. See what I mean about letting them do the fun parts?)

When they make a mess, they are almost always part of the clean-up process. If it's water that's spilled, I hand the towel to my 2-year-old and ask him to clean it up. He feels like such a big helper! Plus, it's water. On the floor. Exciting business. That occurs daily at my house.

Ruth with cheesecake

Remember that "can't" = "can learn"

Make the kitchen a fun place to learn skills like math, reading, critical thinking, cooking, following directions, and cleaning. Take the time to explain new things and teach your child! Even if they don't fully comprehend the concept right now, it's still an investment in their life.

Yehoshua (age 8) still needs help doubling or increasing recipes that involve fractions, but I include him in the computing process so he can continue to learn in a real-life setting. (This adds a sense of purpose to doing math worksheets!)

Eliyahu (age 6) still needs help reading, but he has more fun reading a recipe and getting to use the ingredient he just read than he does reading from a book right now.

Ruth (age 4) is still learning her bigger numbers, but loves to press the buttons on the microwave for me. Does she understand the difference between 30 seconds and 1 minute? No, but someday she will. :)

Moshe (age 2) feels important doing just about anything to help. He can't count cups of flour for me, but he loves to try!

Let them be kids

Some of the things kids like to do when they cook:

Ask questions
Be excited over something new
Work too slowly (or too fast!)
Make a mess
Sample what they're cooking or using
Do their own thing

...and we need to let them.

Add some praise

Thank your helper for a job well done (age appropriately)! Appreciate them. Praise their food, praise their work, and thank them.

When a particular child has helped with a meal or food, I often mention it at the meal.

"Hey guys, did you know that Eliyahu helped make the soup? He worked with me and did most of the vegetables. Doesn't it taste good?!" This public praise is encouraging to my helper and inspires the other family members to thank them and appreciate their work, too.

Podcast

I recorded this podcast about kids in the kitchen when I had 2 young children. Listen in for tips on staying sane while finding cool stuff for little ones to do with you!

Related posts:

Working Alongside Our Children (why, how, and includes my chore charts from when it was written)

Chores for young children in the kitchen (21 things for 6-and-under kids!)

Little Helpers... and a Counting Tip

Eat Well, Spend Less series

This week, the Eat Well, Spend Less bloggers are writing about kids in the kitchen! Check out:

Teaching your kids while you grocery shop (Denver Bargains)

Letting kids cook (Life as Mom)

Recipes that kids can cook in the kitchen (Simple Bites)

When everyone wants to help (Kingdom First Mom)

Overcoming the stress of having kids in your kitchen (Life...Your Way)

Summertime popsicles with zero sugar / Kids help in the kitchen (Kitchen Stewardship)

...and one to come from: Food For My Family

Eat Well, Spend Less: One year later

Eat Well, Spend Less series

It's been a whole year since the Eat Well, Spend Less series began! This month, we're writing about the changes in our grocery budgets and eating habits through the past year.

For my family, the past year has been full of twists and turns! Discovering medical conditions of my husband (Joshua) that demanded attention, pregnancy and the birth of our 5th baby, 3 months of having my husband home from work (on medical leave), homeschooling 3 children, and all of the children growing and eating more and doing more as we try to balance frugal and simple and healthy and quick, the 2-year-old just pulled down a stack of puzzles! :)

Last year, my sanity stayed intact and life was frugally simplified by:

1. Having a chest freezer

I still can't believe the difference this has made! We've had our freezer for 14 months now and it has become key in helping our family to eat well on a budget. It has saved trips to the store, allowed us to gather gallons of berries in the summer (without making it all into sugary jam or pie filling!), and afforded the ability to stock up on fish at discount prices.

Kitchen shelves
My "upgraded" kitchen shelves!

2. Bi-weekly grocery shopping

I am still a huge Costco fan! All my reasons for loving Costco hold true. I like their produce. I like their baking supplies and spices. I like their frozen veggies and fruits. I like their dairy prices. And I love only going to 1 store, twice a month! It saves time and I know we spend less when we don't shop weekly.

(We do occasionally go to other stores to buy certain items, like bulk foods. And now that Joshua's back to work, we'll be buying bananas at QFC just down the road for the weeks when we're not doing our "regular" grocery shopping.)

See also: Is Costco Frugal?

Getting ready to pick blackberries

3. Foraging for food

Okay, so I've only foraged two things so far. But still! It's a start, especially for someone (like me) living in an urban area and not having daytime transportation (and needing to take 4 kids along on walks!).

Last summer we picked 12+ gallons of huge, plump, delicious blackberries and froze them! We've been making blackberry syrup and using them in smoothies. Considering the price of frozen fruit in the store, we're saving a lot by harvesting the berries that grow wild here in western Washington! :)

This Spring I've been gathering nettles. (More about that later this week!)

Kitchen shelves

4. Making easy meals and snacks

Unless we're having guests, I mostly follow my "three things and it's dinner!" rule. I've focused more on simple meat main dishes (grilled or baked fish, chicken, or turkey) with a grain on the side (often brown rice) and a veggie on the side (often frozen veggies from Costco). We've eaten lots of beans for lunches and oatmeal for breakfasts.

Snacks are usually no-cook things like fresh fruit, cheese, veggie sticks with hummus, or nuts (smoked almonds are our favorite). Again -- Costco makes these things more affordable, I have the older boys help prep fruits or veggies (doing several days' worth at a time), and I feel good about the food and snack options I'm serving!

5. Eating at home

This one's essential for spending less and eating well. I don't always feel like cooking dinner, but I combat that by having super easy meal options available (freezer burritos or beef vegetable soup from the freezer have "saved the day" more than a handful of times!). I also happily enlist Joshua's help with meals on the weekends, when he has time to grill chicken or fish. And ultimately, being home a lot (like... all day every day!) allows me to cook more while still keeping life feeling "simple".

Our favorite restaurant copycat recipe are filed here!

Where we're headed now: Weight loss (me)

Last year, I felt like we ate pretty balanced and healthy meals, but I had really fallen off the "weight loss" bandwagon and onto the "weight gain" one long before getting pregnant again. I don't have any good excuses... the summer was cold and cloudy, I felt depressed, I didn't care enough, and I liked food way too much. ;) I pulled out of that cycle (with God's help and blessing!) in time to be pregnant and then spend 8 months eating enough and gaining appropriately. Baby Channah is beautiful and healthy as can be! And I've lost 20 of the 25 pounds I gained in pregnancy.

However, I still have 10 pounds to lose from pregnancy #4, and 10 to lose from #3, and if I got really ambitious (which I may not be), 10 pounds to lose from pregnancies #1 and #2! Yikes. So, I'm definitely going to be watching my food choices and even keeping track of my calories for quite a while if that's going to happen.

I would rather just eat and eat (and gain weight) than to count calories, but I find I must count calories to help me keep a healthy balance, lose weight slowly, make sure I'm eating enough, and "spending" my calories wisely.

I'd like to share more on this topic in another post soon, but until then, I've written about weight loss in the past:

Weighing in: Practicing moderation in eating

Weight loss: Motivation, habits, and counting calories 

Healthy snacks, moderated 

Food Budgeting: Spending my calories wisely

sandwich

Where we're headed now: Healthy lunches (Joshua)

After 3 months off, I felt a little rusty when it came time to start packing lunches for Joshua again! Fortunately, he keeps his lunch requests simple for me and with some planning, it can all be made ahead and just thrown in the lunchbox in the morning.

Joshua's been eating oatmeal (made with lactose-free milk) in the morning before leaving for work. In his lunch I pack 2 bananas, a protein drink (made with milk and protein powder), and a container of cooked pinto beans with some hot sauce and 1/2 ounce of cheese sprinkled on top. He eats something at each of his breaks, and warms the beans in the microwave for lunch.

He comes home hungry! But my goal is to have dinner on the table when he gets home, so we can eat right away. :)

Eat Well, Spend Less series

Check out what the other Eat Well, Spend Less bloggers are sharing about their year:

Jessica at Life As Mom
Katie at GoodLife Eats
Carrie at Denver Bargains
Amy at Keeping the Kingdom First
Aimee at Simple Bites
Katie at Kitchen Stewardship
Shaina at Food for my Family
Mandi at Life...Your Way

Eat Well, Spend Less: Pregnancy, postpartum, and beyond

Eat Well, Spend Less series

Last week, the the Eat Well, Spend Less team was blogging about babies and food!

Kitchen Planning When You Are Pregnant -- Amy writes about overcoming pregnancy tiredness and aversions, with simple tips for planning ahead. Her final advice? Keep it simple! (I definitely do that... and it's 100% okay. :D)

Tips for Taking Meals to a New Mom -- Carrie gives some AWESOME tips about meals for new moms (and their families), with things to keep in mind whether you're on the giving or receiving end of the meal. I resonate with everything she says!! Food is one of the best after-baby gifts (in my opinion!) and even if you're not making it from scratch, it's still a blessing to the mom who didn't have to plan the meal or get the items from the store. And on the receiving end, let others serve you and try not to be high-maintenance. But just go read Carrie's post -- it's great.

The Postpartum Diet -- Aimee writes an overview of some things to consider for postpartum eating, with tips for making healthy food choices, yummy breakfast oatmeal (milk-supply boosting!) recipes, and a high-fiber prunes recipe that Aimee says is amazing enough to eat any day of the week, postpartum or not!

Food Celebrations and a New Baby -- I smiled all through Jessica's delightful post about celebrating a new baby with food! I think I've tried nearly all of her ideas in the past -- including making a BIRTH-day cake to celebrate the new baby's arrival! (I didn't get a BIRTH-day cake made this time, boo!) Best of all, Jessica gives us permission to stock our pantries with easy foods and drinks. (Is this the time to admit that my kids have been mostly eating cold cereal and milk for breakfasts for the past month?)

Channah
Channah (3 weeks old)

A Homemade Baby Food Primer -- Mandi shares about several homemade baby food approaches, with approachable ways to avoid the shelf of jarred baby food at your grocery store. If you're already serving fresh healthy meals to the rest of your family, homemade baby food just makes sense!

Real-Food Baby Food -- Katie talks about the ways she's started her babies on solid foods and gives pointers for introducing some of the best "first foods" for babies -- avocado, sweet potatoes, egg yolks, bananas, and more!

Food for New Parents to Eat Well and Spend Less -- Shaina has some tried-and-true ways to eat well as a new parent without spending hours in the kitchen or spending a lot on take-out food. I love that she recommends keeping carrots, romaine lettuce, and apples in the fridge  -- all foods that keep well and make for healthy snacking! (They're also some of the more affordable produce items at the grocery store.)

A No-Work Kitchen After Baby Arrives (Eat Well, Spend Less)

Channah

This month's Eat Well, Spend Less topic is all about BABIES! Okay, babies and food. ;)

In the past few weeks, Aimee, Carrie, and I have all given birth to baby girls! The rest of the team decided to help us celebrate and picked baby-related topics to write about. (Scroll down for links to the other posts in this series!)

You know, I love having children. Every age (that I've experienced so far... my oldest is only 8) is amazing in a different way.

Yehoshua and Channah

My older children are inspiring to me, make me laugh, and bring so much love to our home. My littler ones say cute things, make big messes, and bring so much love to our home. ;)

And my newborn, Channah -- she makes me feel so relaxed and content, everyone fights over getting to hold her (but I get her the most :D) and she brings even more love to our home.

And I sure don't feel like working in the kitchen when I could be cuddling with a sweet little baby!

So, I don't. I mean, as much as possible. And how is this possible?

Freezer food

1. Make freezer meals.

This was my biggest regret after having my first baby: I hadn't made any meals for the freezer. Oh, I'd planned on just making "easy stuff" but with a fussy baby who didn't sleep much, I very quickly realized that my 30-minute "easy meal" was not at all easy to pull off as a new mom. In fact, things that normally took me 30-uninterrupted-minutes suddenly took 90-very-interrupted-minutes. Or more. :)

With subsequent babies, I have made freezer meals my top priority when getting ready for the baby. And with even more hungry tummies to keep filled, having dinners made ahead transforms any afternoon into a much easier juggling feat of naps and quiet-time activities, minus dinner prep.

We're picky about what we consider a good freezer meal (e.g. it really shouldn't taste like frozen reheated leftovers!), but I've been able to find a good variety of freezer meals we like. At the very least, freezing cooked or grilled chicken breast, cooked taco meat, cooked beans, or other "ingredients" can make from-scratch cooking a lot faster!

My freezer meal plan in 2010 (with baby #4)

My freezer meal plan this year (with baby #5)

2. Don't do dishes. (Or: Have a dishes plan.)

When we lived in a house without a dishwasher, we bought paper plates and bowls to use for the first few weeks after baby was born. This really kept the kitchen cleaner, and with no effort on my part. (For some reason, Joshua enjoys kitchen clean-up a lot more when it doesn't involve him having to wash dishes!)

Where we live now, we have a dishwasher and haven't felt the need to use lots of disposable dishes. Using my homemade freezer meals means there is already a lot fewer dishes to be done each day, and with the dishwasher, kitchen clean-up is something I've been able to do in ~20 minutes after dinner (for the whole day's dishes).

At any rate, if you hate dishes or don't have a dishwasher, have a plan so you don't need to worry about them.

Floor duty for kids :)

3. Clean the kitchen floor.

A dirty kitchen floor drives me crazy! It wasn't so bad before we had all these kids who drop so many crumbs with every meal. Seriously, it is next to impossible to keep the kitchen floor clean with kids unless you...

...have the kids help clean up their crumbs! (And if you don't have kids to help sweep crumbs, then hopefully this means you have way less crumbs on your floor than I have on mine!!)

My favorite kid-friendly sweep-up method is to have a Dirt Devil or similar sort of cordless hand-held vacuum and let them use it to sweep dry crumbs (I make them pick up wet food spills by hand). We had a Dust Buster for several years and used it multiple times a day before it wore out. It's easy enough for even a 2-year-old to sweep up crumbs from the floor.

Currently, we use good old fashioned brooms and dust pans. The kids have their choice of a regular broom or whisk broom, and after a meal I usually assign someone the task of sweeping up crumbs. They don't do a perfect job, but they do get a lot of the crumbs -- and I know there will just be more after the next meal anyway. ;) Every couple days the vacuum cleaner gets brought out and then we really do get every last crumb swept up. :)

Channah

4. Grocery shop before the baby's born.

I found it helpful to stock up on pantry staples (at Costco, of course) before a new baby. With a stocked pantry and freezer meals made, it's so nice to not need as many groceries each week for a while!

Grocery shopping is also one of those things you can mention when someone asks if you need anything. Armed with a detailed list (and your grocery money, of course!), having a friend or relative pick up groceries for you is such a blessing if you don't feel like going out with a new baby in tow.

(Personally, I just never feel like going anywhere with a new baby. I'm such a homebody!)

5. Use appliances.

If you have a crock pot, bread machine, rice cooker, or other handy kitchen appliances -- learn how to use them for foods your family likes!

Babies are often really unpredictable, so when you can start a meal early in the crock pot, or use the timer feature on your bread machine, you can fit dinner prep into whatever snippet of time you have early in the day rather than scrambling at the last minute (or stressing out because you need to work on dinner but you'd rather rock your baby to sleep!).

I don't have a lot of kitchen appliances, so help me out here -- what other appliances streamline dinner prep or include timer features? :)

6. Accept help.

This only works if you have offers of help, which I hope every new mom does -- from her husband, family, or friends. When someone wants to help, accept their offer! Okay, so your husband doesn't do housework just like you would -- but that's okay. Your kids fold the laundry and it's not folded "right" -- but that's okay.

I feel really blessed right now because my husband and kids can and DO do so much around the house for me! And honestly, they do a pretty good job most of the time. No, it's not all exactly how it would be if I were doing it. But it's definitely okay and I thank them and tell them how awesome they are. :)

More on preparing for a new baby: All the stuff I did before #2 was born :)

6 Tips for Cooking with a Baby (because eventually, you gotta do it!)

Eat Well, Spend Less series

More about babies and food from the Eat Well, Spend Less team:

Food celebration and a new baby (Jessica at Life As Mom)

The postpartum diet (Aimee at Simple Bites)

A homemade baby food primer (Mandi at Life...Your Way)

Taking meals to a new mom (Carrie at Denver Bargains)

Kitchen planning when you're pregnant (Amy at Keeping the Kingdom First)

...and more to come from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship and Shaina at Food for my Family! :)

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

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