A Food Shopping Strategy

As I work on my grocery list for shopping tomorrow, I start to dive through my recipes and explore new ones to try.  I’m much of a type A personality in this department, I have developed a grocery and cooking strategy so I have enough to last my family 2 weeks (sometimes more) of healthy meals.  I hate going to the grocery store or other food resources a few times a week, as I have enough to juggle on my plate already, between working full time, keeping up with housework, enjoying one of many crunchy hobbies, and now being a new mom.  It’s also proven that many small trips to the store lead to more impulsive buying, and hence spending more money.  My strategy also helps in that every night there’s no searching for what we’re going to eat or spending money on take out, there is a list posted on the fridge, that’s what we have to pick from and all the ingredients are within my fridge and pantry, ready to rock.

I have a great checklist on my fridge that organizes food items by category, hence helping to make sure you don’t forget something when you are in that section of the store or say at your local produce connection.  I believe I got it at Target for only a few dollars, you could also make your own and print multiple copies.  I’ve seen some great templates on Pinterest for things of this nature.  As we finish items, I check off that we are in need of something over the 2 week period.  Then when the fridge and cabinets start to empty and it’s time for another trip, I use the same checklist to add any items I’ll need for the next 2 weeks of meals, in addition to any odds and ends I checked off previously.  I get out my recipes, cookbooks, and sort through some new resources I may have found, coming up with 8-10 meals, and a few additional items (think muffins, hummus, quinoa salad) for breakfasts, snacks, or easy lunches.  Yes there are 12 days, but when you cook 8-10 times, you typically have enough to have leftovers a few nights and also we do occasionally treat ourselves to take out, dinner with friends/family, or go out for a meal.  If this is too ambitious for you, make it one week, say have 5-6 meals planned out instead, whatever works for you.

My handy dandy checklist

My handy dandy checklist

I also try and base my recipes around things I know are in season right now that I might be able to get at a local discount produce supplier, farmers market, from my own garden, etc.  Sometimes I don’t need an entire butternut squash for one recipe, but if I’m cutting it up already, might as well do the whole thing and not waste what’s left.  So one night I might make butternut squash risotto and the next, butternut squash soup and so on.  I am big on making large meals for dinner and having them as leftovers for lunch the next day or dinner another night.  I love roasting a whole chicken and then having extra chicken left to repurpose for another meal and/or make broth out of the remnants for delicious soup or future uses. If you are going to spend the time, why not go the extra mile and conquer two meals at one time.  I will say, although I do shop for 2 weeks at a time, sometimes produce can’t make it that long, so I may have to pick up a few things the next week to make sure items don’t spoil in the meantime. I also look at the grocery store flyer, are there items on sale right now I need and can use for multiple meals?  Unfortunately the type of items I shop for usually aren’t the ones that are the cheapest, but you’d be surprised.  Our local Giant has items on sale in the crunchy section often and produce as well, if I can’t get it locally at the time.  Whatever I can’t get there of course I find through other resources, and like to hit them all in one day when possible.  I check everything I need for my 8-10 recipes off on my list.  I hate to admit it, but I sort of LOVE the day I go food shopping.  I wish people would pay me to do theirs!

My deep freezer is also my best friend.  If you’re buying say, half a cow from a local farmer, or your husband brings home a whole deer (welcome to my life), having a deep freezer is great to package the meat into smaller portions (I also have a FoodSaver Machine, works great), and unfreezing later as needed.  This is a huge cost saver, buying in bulk and freezing.  Also if I find I have a surplus of leftovers, I individually package into smaller meals and freeze as well.  It’s nice when you’re busy to just be able to pull something out and put it in the oven, or your lunchbox for the next day at work.  Last summer we had a huge surplus from our garden, and being that we were expecting our first child, I took the opportunity to make some homemade baby food (more to come on this in future blogs) and froze in individual portions for use later.  I’m sure I’ll be thankful in a few months when I just have to go to my freezer and grab something to thaw for Sophia to eat!  Before I make my 2 week list, sometimes I survey what we already have available in the cabinets and my freezer to make sure I’m using what we have and I’m not buying something already at my disposal.  I tend to buy multiple of non-perishable goods at a time when they’re cheaper..ie: coconut milk or beans are on sale, I’ll buy a bunch, and then have a stock in my pantry to use later.

A great resource for making large, freezable meals, even in one day if you choose, is a website I found called Once a Month Mom.  Although they have traditional menus and recipes, they also feature a Whole Foods, Gluten & Dairy Free, and even a Paleo Menu.  I frequent all of these, as new items are posted every month, usually seasonal as well which I love.  All their recipes and link to recipes are free of charge.  However if you are feeling ambitious and have a little extra money, you can pay to have access to meal plans for a month, including grocery lists and spreadsheets in order to help determine what you need to feed any x number of people and how to cook all of it in just one day, freezing for use throughout the month.  I use their resources myself for the recipes and meal ideas alone, as obviously I have my own shopping and cooking strategies.

So with checklist in hand, re-useable grocery bags, and my meals planned, I head to the grocery store, my local produce source, and sometimes farmers markets (along with baby wearing husband in tow)!  Again a little OCD, when we return from the store, I organize everything in a way that the oldest is up front to be used, and items are viewable so I know what I have.  Our list of meals is posted on the fridge, and we’re ready for 2 weeks of deliciousness!  Yes this takes a little bit of thought and time, but it’s well worth it on those busy weekdays.

What strategies do you use for meal planning and grocery shopping?  Do you have any crunchy, whole foods, or specialty recipe resources you utilize?  Check out our local resources page for ideas on where to buy your food!

Reading: Revolution in the Bleachers

We are not a very sporty family at this point.  It seemed like everyone I knew played sports growing up, so I played some too, but wasn’t what I would call “athletic.” Now, I enjoy being outside, but I don’t watch sports on TV or play any team or individual sports.

Still, I want my kids to explore their athletic side so I picked up Revolution in the Bleachers: How parents can take back family in a world gone crazy over youth sports because I saw it at the library and it looked interesting.  The thesis of Revolution in the Bleachers is that parents or coaches are sometimes losing sight of the positive goals of playing individual or team sports, like learning about winning and losing, developing social, physical, and leadership skills, and just having fun and getting outside. Instead some parents and coaches are taking a winning-at-all-costs approach which is driving kids and families to be over-scheduled,  over-worked, and emotionally drained and all for what?  The small chance of winning any athletic scholarship or making a living as an athlete?

Surprisingly, reading this book got me thinking about a lot of parenting issues outside of decisions about sports.  Here are my key takeaways:

When you make any investment of money or your family’s time, think about what you hope to achieve and decide if it is worth the cost.

As we make decisions about the ultimate size of our family, I think about the choices we will have to make about activities.  Right now, I don’t see an extra $200 a month materializing to cover sports, scouting, music lessons, gymnastic, swimming lessons, dance lessons and other activities for multiple children at a time. We will have to pick and choose.  This book also made me think about those investments in terms of time.  How many directions can our family be pulled with multiple evening commitments per week?  I hope that my children can have a fun time playing sports and doing other activities, but if the time commitment is too great or if they aren’t having fun because of a coach who cares about winning over character development, then it is all right to opt out of the activity. I won’t be robbing my children, but instead will be allowing our family to invest its efforts in experiences that are worth it.

At the extreme, Revolution in the Bleachers describes families where children are specializing in a single sport at the age of 8 or 9 to then play that sport year-round spending thousands of dollars per year on sports fees, personal trainers, summer camps, and travel costs for the family.  Moreover, family time is destroyed as one parent travels with the child many weekends and holidays and family dinner time is rarely observed. Whether soccer, spelling bees, piano lessons, or beauty pageants, I can’t imagine what end result would be worth such an investment if it were at the cost of my sons’ childhoods and our family life.

Doing structured activities can benefit your child AND not doing structured activities can benefit your child.

Of course I think about the opportunities I want to give my children.  Although I usually think of opportunities as “things to do” like lessons or travel experiences, reading this book reminded me that giving children down time and free time is also an opportunity. I spent hours and hours outside as a youngster: exploring nature, playing ball games with my neighbors, reading, or playing make believe with my sister.  I hope my children can enjoy the same opportunities.  I think there are skills and life lessons that can only be learned when children guide their own activities as opposed to showing up to participate in activities organized by adults.

Children are people, not projects.

This one kind of hit me hard.  I take my parenting choices very seriously.  Sometimes I confuse the desire to give my children the opportunity to flourish as well-rounded, happy adults with my desire to have “done a great job” as a parent.  I’m not saying that I shouldn’t want to do a good job.  Instead, I’m saying that doing a good job should involve me growing as a person and learning how to be the best parent I can be, and should NOT be focused on what my children can achieve.  There is a big part of me that is convinced that great parents should raise happy kids, but reading Revolution in the Bleachers made me see the danger in this thinking.  Being attached to your children’s performance, whether at piano, soccer, or life generally, puts too much pressure on them and isn’t a good example of the kind of unconditional love I’m shooting for.  I still want my children to be successful and I hope they are wildly so.  But signing them up for sports or nurturing their creative side or giving them amazing learning opportunities should be to help them develop as wonderful people because I love them, and not to develop them as wonderful people so I can feel good about myself.

What about you? How do you decide what amount of structured activities are right for your child?

50 cent pony ride was definitely worth the cost!

50 cent pony ride was definitely worth the cost!

One man’s trash is…..My treasure.

I truly live by this mantra. There are so many areas around our home that I used repurposed or upcycled materials. I don’t only do it for the awesome monetary benefits but also because when your done, it can look rad and your saving a little space in the landfill. Here are a few things I’ve upcycled:

 

There are more cabinets not pictured.

There are more cabinets not pictured.

1. When remodeling our home years back I put an addition on the original 2 bedroom house. This created a 3rd bedroom and new bathroom upstairs and a new kitchen and half-bath downstairs. At the time of the remodel I was single and on a major budget because I was paying for this house, an apartment and renovation costs at the same time. Ouch. Anyway, the “new” kitchen I installed was actually one that a friend removed from his house. Maple cabinets in good condition all for $250 and I didn’t even use them all. Include the counter top and kitchen sink and I had a kitchen for under $1k. Unheard of. Oh, one other thing, the wall paint is Benjamin Moore and was free. How do you ask? Well, I went to the paint store and asked if they had any mis-mixed paints and sure enough they did and still do. Your saving them disposal fees by taking them off their hands so lots of times they are happy to give it to you.

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2. The interior of the house was covered in paneling, over paneling, over plaster. Sheesh. I did my best to remove as many layers as possible but when it came to the stairway I was just sick and tired of plaster dust. This area was left go for some time but finally I came upon some materials that would work great and offer some visual appeal to the house. Cedar clapboard siding is what I landed on for the walls, which is intended to be use on the exterior. Why not use it inside? Anyway, I paid nothing for the siding. The only cost I had in finishing the stairway was fasteners for the installation and paint.

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3. When it came time for my oldest son to move into a “big boy” bedroom and out of the nursery we needed to spice things up a bit. Of course, we wanted to do this on little or no money and we achieved our goal. What you see in the picture is an activity area in Porter’s bedroom. A place for him to stand and color, play with toys or climb up on (which seems to be the most fun). The countertop is made from a salvaged piece of Georgie Pacific Rim Joist which is used in the construction of a sub-floor in new home construction. It was sanded and stained using some stain found in my Dad’s woodshop. The magnet boards on the wall are made from 3 – 100 amp electrical panels that were found in a warehouse and repainted with a can of spray paint which was given to me. Another pocket pleasing $0 total for this project.

Are you upcycling? Are you repurposing materials around your house? You should be. If you think you can’t do it, try this, stop looking at things only for what they were intended or made for. Start looking at materials and objects as universal problem solvers and you too will begin to find new uses for everyday objects and materials.

Why I need a budget

Budgeting together since '09 . . . that's how we knew we could afford this old timey photo Matt had been longing for!

Budgeting together since ’09 . . . that’s how we knew we could afford this old timey photo Matt had been longing for!

I’m a little high-strung.  So every now and again, while I’m trying to fall asleep, I imagine how I would feel if I lost some group of files on my computer.  I surprise even myself when I break into a sweat imagining if I lost access to my budgeting program and files!  Obviously I could replace this year’s budget with some work, I mainly worry about losing access to the program because it is a much earlier version of the current YNAB (stands for You Need A Budget) software and after a short 4+ years of budgeting with it, I am set in my ways.

After I calm my fears of being separated from my much-loved budgeting tool and remind myself it is stored on dropbox, I try to remember what life was like before we started budgeting.  Before budgeting, we

  • Never knew if our waxing and waning fellowship, scholarship, or loan funds would cover all of our expenses until the next semester
  • Worried about spending any money on household items, restaurants, travel, gifts, or luxury items because we didn’t know if we could afford them
  • Paid the minimum on our student loans because we didn’t know if we had the funds to pay more
  • Felt guilty when we bought anything.

If I’m being honest, it was me that was feeling guilty, and Matt that was feeling squeezed.  It caused tension in our relationship because I wanted to save the money in case we needed it later and Matt wanted to enjoy some of it.  Fortunately, despite the ever-growing student loans, we never had any other debt and we paid all of our bills promptly.

When I started working full-time, I had to convince Matt that we needed a budget.  Understandably, he was afraid that budgeting was going to make me even more strict with what I thought we could spend, but he gave it a try.  We decided to try the YNAB budgeting system because I had read about it online and it has several “rules” that appealed to my natural budgeting instincts, especially the rule that required you to live on last month’s income.

I was surprised to learn that even after four years of marriage and lots of money talk, actually setting a budget together was very difficult for me.  It was so difficult for me that I cried every single time we budgeted for months!  (I know, embarrassing!)  But sticking with it was one of the best things we ever did and has allowed us to accomplish so many things.  I feel certain that we would not have accomplished the following without budgeting:

  • Paid off more than $60k in student loan debt
  • Saved up a 20% down payment for a house
  • Paid cash for a home birth, a new oil tank, a refrigerator, and a vinyl fence for our yard
  • Adjusted to life on one, smaller income while all of our student loans are in repayment

I still tend to get panicky about money.  It will take a long time for us to get out of educational debt and I don’t like that.  I’m not sure how we will save up money for the new car that we will eventually need.  But, I know that we are chipping away at our financial goals.  More importantly for our lives and our marriage, I understand that after we decide to budget for a date night or for birthday presents for family members, we should enjoy spending the money because our true financial needs, for that month and in the long-term, are being met.

I need a budget because I never felt so free and enjoyed our money so much until I decided to record and categorize every dollar spent.  Go figure!

This Crunchy Pooch

My husband and I are admittedly those people who treat their dog as one of their children.  But why shouldn’t we?  She has rewarded us in so many ways, by being the most amazing companion to our family and believe it or not, helping us live a more crunchy lifestyle.  As we are on a mission to live more naturally, is it possible to have a pet help you do the same?  I believe so.

Sadie is a vibrant 6 year old English Springer Spaniel, who my husband and I picked out from a litter of puppies a family member had.  (Think no dogs from a puppy mill, and if you can adopt, to obtain your pet in an even more crunchy way)  She admittedly was a little bit of a wild puppy, living with Aaron and I in a small townhouse, she chewed everything in sight.  But we were strict with training her and she turned out to be an amazing animal.  I’m convinced she’s the perfect family dog, she’s very mellow and quiet in the house, but when you get her outside, she lets loose!  Most people refer to her as a human rather than a dog, as she’d rather sit next to you, then play with other fellow members of her species.  Since the birth of our daughter she has become very protective of myself and the baby, another added bonus of free security.  So how is she helping us be crunchy?

Sadie

Sadie at Home

-Gets Us Outside

Sadie is a hunting/working breed, so it’s important for her to run and be outside when we can.  This being said, she drives us to get outside at all times of the year.  Whether it’s walking around the block, going for a hike in the woods, attending outdoor events, going swimming (she loves any body of water), and even kayaking (yes Sadie will swim along the side of our kayaks!), she keeps us active and enjoying the outdoors.  After the recent birth of our daughter, in the dead of winter, Sadie was our excuse to get out for a walk, even when it was cold, we bundled up Sophia at 2 or 3 months, put her on our chests in her Ergobaby or in her stroller, and took the dog for a walk.  Sadie makes outdoor activities all that more enjoyable.  I am so excited to see how she plays outside with our daughter Sophia when she gets older.  All these activities are obviously at little to no added cost for our family.

Sadie hiking with us at Rickett's Glenn State Park this past summer

Sadie hiking with us at Rickett’s Glenn State Park this past summer

-She “Works”

As I stated above, our pooch is that of the hunting breed.  Her original purpose was to “flush”, or push birds and other small game, out of bushes and brush while hunting, so their owners could then shoot the game freely.  Sadie, although very domesticated and very much a house dog, enjoys hunting with my husband like you wouldn’t believe.  She literally knows what  camouflage clothing means and what a gun/bow represents.  She acts like a kid at Christmas when these items appear.  That being said, she accompanies my husband hunting and instinctively assists him.  She does what she’s meant to do, my husband thoroughly enjoys her company, and sometimes they even come home with some local game.

Sadie has also gone through training to be a therapy dog.  Her breed is known for this, being able to volunteer to visit sick children, elderly, or handicapped.  Although I have yet to bring her to do so, I hope to in the future once my newborn has grown a bit.  I think it will be an important way to give back, and to teach my daughter the importance of acts of kindness and volunteering your time.

-Stress Relief

Our dog has become very intuitive over the time we’ve had her, I’m convinced she can read emotions before I can.  She always wants to be near you or touching one of us when we’re at home.  After a hard day of work, or an emotional time, Sadie is always there, quietly sitting next to you, placing her head on your lap.  Stroking her soft fur, I swear lowers my blood pressure.  When I’m upset, she literally tries to sit on top of me, give me a kiss, or nuzzle my hand.  When I was laboring at home before the birth of my daughter 3 months ago, Sadie became so upset every time I had a contraction, she was literally sitting on top of me and wouldn’t leave my side.  When I was in pain, she would whine uncontrollably.  My husband had to have his parents come pick her up when things got tougher, since she was so upset and a distraction.  The dog senses things, and tries to be there for you.  There have been numerous studies that show the health benefits of having a pet in this way.

-Free Heat Source

This sounds silly, yes, but just last night my husband commented that we didn’t need heat in our bedroom at night because we have extra blankets and…the dog.  We allow her to sleep on a blanket at the foot of our bed in the winter, and let me tell you, she keeps my feet extra toasty.  As Jennifer has posted about, we also try our best to keep our heat lower in the winter, especially at night, and the dog helps us achieve that by keeping us toasty warm.  She also is always up for a cuddle under a blanket on the couch.

Is our dog herself living a crunchy lifestyle?  Well we strive for that, but easier said then done.  Although I do purchase commercial dog food, I do so from a locally run store, rather then a big box chain, and her food is made from whole ingredients.  Everything on the label of her food are things I can pronounce and know of, in fact most are things I eat….lamb, carrots, spinach, etc.   Yes this food comes at a little bit of an extra cost, but aside from making my own dog food (something maybe I’d try in the future!), it’s the best thing available for her.  I’m willing to spend a little extra knowing my dog isn’t eating chicken beaks and sawdust (yep that’s in a lot of dog food), just as I’m willing to spend a little more on buying fresh veggies and fruit for myself.  She often eats veggies and fruit, just as we do as well.  She loves broccoli and carrots!  When Sadie has a issue, we try to cure it the same way we would for ourselves, with home remedie or naturally.  Sadie struggled with issues of what we like to call stinky butt, and rather then running to the vet every month to have it taken care of and wasting money, we experimented with her diet.  Turned out all she needed was a little extra fiber and nutrition, so every day we sprinkle a dry flaky supplement on her food, mostly comprised of seaweed and other whole ingredients and surprise, problem solved.  We also do our best to not run to the vet with her, and stretch out her grooming in order to save money, or do it ourselves. She is a small added expense, but in my mind, a well worth one.  She gives back to us much more then I could ever give to her.

Sadie & our daughter Sophia

Sadie & our daughter Sophia

Next time you are considering a pet, or a friend for your children, remember they can be a great enhancement to your natural life.  Do your research and find one that works for you.

Do you have a pet that helps you live a crunchy lifestyle, or is the pet itself crunchy?

Getting them out the door

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If I were to list the top 5 reasons I try to get my boys outside, they would be:

  1. Parenting is easier outdoors.  
  2. I feel happier and more easy-going when I spend time outside everyday. 
  3. Fresh air and exercise are good for growing bodies and help the boys sleep and eat well.
  4. So much learning happens based on the things we encounter in our yard, in our neighborhood, or out in nature.
  5. I want to raise children who enjoy being outdoors.

But, just because I know a thing is good for everyone doesn’t mean that I make it happen.  There are many factors that would deter spending time outside, like I don’t like the cold, my children have an embarrassing yen for eating sand and dirt, sometimes it is difficult to shepherd 2 mobile toddler-aged children on a walk. Nevertheless, I have a huge interest in increasing my family’s time outdoors, so one of my goals is to spend 15 minutes outside every day this year.

Before you think it is a clever idea, let me acknowledge, that I took it straight from Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids which I read last year. And before you think that 15 minutes is a terrible idea because it is too short, let me assure you that the beauty of a goal like this one is that it is small enough that it seems manageable, but once you get that 15 minutes started, you will often find yourself outside for an hour or more.

So, how am I doing with my goal?  Well, it is the coldest part of the year, but I’ve had many successful days.  We’ve been out in the snow, the rain, and the cold, cold wind.  Sometimes we’ve counted down the minutes until we can go in and other times we’ve enjoyed wonderful neighborhood walks that lasted for an hour or more.  We’ve shoveled snow together and eaten snow together and built several mini-snowmen.

Just identifying such a concrete, measurable goal has been the most important change to our amount of time spent outside because now I know what I’m trying to achieve.  But another practical effort has really made a difference.  Before starting my year-long project, I assembled a bin of all of our outdoor gear.  All of the parents’ and kids’ boots, gloves, hats, mittens, scarves, and snowpants, now reside in this bin by the back door.  Instead of hunting around in my room and digging around in the boys’ drawers when it snows or is extra cold, I can dive into this bin and we are ready, lickety split.

What have you found to make getting outdoors easier?

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62

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We heat our home to 62 degrees during the day in the winter months.

Our parents don’t always like to take off their coats.  Sometimes our friends cover up with a blanket when they sit for chat on our couch. Our coconut oil stays solid and our honey is hard to pour all winter long.

Once in a blue moon, I just can’t face the day at 62, so I nudge the thermostat up to a balmy 65, but for the most part, I have adapted. It helps that I love saving money on heating oil and I feel good reducing our energy consumption. Now, when I go to my parent’s house, I feel like I’m having hot flashes and need to drink a lot of water.

Here are some tips that might make it easier if you want to transition to a lower home heating temperature.

  • Wear long underwear, sweaters, and sweatshirts every day.  It is winter after all!
  • Invest in a good robe.
  • Keep busy during the day.  Clean, cook, play, dance.  It feels much warmer than sitting still.
  • Drink warm drinks and eat warming foods like soup or foods with a lot of spiciness.
  • Cook and bake to warm the kitchen area.
  • Consider making a change when someone is pregnant. At least one person will be running warm.
  • Sleep or cuddle with your children, or fur babies.
  • Make a deal with yourself that you will turn the heat up if you get very cold, or turn it up for holidays as a special treat.
  • If all else fails, think about the money you are saving and plan how to spend it.