Friday, October 16, 2015

Don't hate on Hamburger Helper!

We've all been there. The clock strikes 5:00pm and we are still looking in our cabinet trying to decode a dish to feed our starving families. Shoot... sometimes we don't even make it into the kitchen at 5:00pm - sometimes it's more like 6:25pm... guilty!

Frequently the act of frugality is often associated with the idea of cooking everything from scratch to save money. But this is not necessarily the case. While the word "frugal" can mean different things to similar people the outcome is always the same: Saving money. Now there are some people out there that believe that making all meals from scratch to be not only less expensive but healthier for you as well. While the healthier factor is likely true the "less expensive" factor is not always. My perfect example is: Hamburger Helper!

There are four reasons why this boxed meal will always be close to my heart:

Making this skillet dish requires 3 ingredients (in addition to the box mix of course): Ground beef, milk and water. These are items we tend to try to save money on everyday and usually have on hand already so no inconvenience there! 

Preparation time - you cannot beat a 20 minute cook time from pan to plate. 

Price: Cheap. The typical shelf price at Walmart is around $1.58 per box but many grocery stores in my area (and I'm pretty sure all over the country) will quite frequently put every variety on sale for $1.00 each and I have even seen them as low as $.79! There are constantly coupons out there whether they are printable from home or a tear pad at the grocery store which is usually around a $.20 per box discount too which makes it even cheaper.

Variety. There are so many options you could have a different one once a week for a few months before repeating. Don't forget the chicken or tuna varieties!

Whenever I whip up a box for dinner last minute I almost always use a boxed potato mix with it because if I'm gonna go boxed meal... I go all out! It's hard to beat 5 minute potatoes. Boil up a canned veg and you have dinner in literally 20 minutes. BOOM!

Now, it's not the healthiest meal but I do think it's better for you than an ordered pizza and much better for your wallet too. I always have a shelf in my cabinet dedicated to Hamburger Helper because even though I meal plan... something always seems to go off course and I need these to keep me on track! Like tonight... allergies hit our house hard and the last thing I wanted to do was stand around in the kitchen cooking. Hamburger Helper to the rescue!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Scalloped Potatoes with Ham ($.69 per serving!)

Scalloped potatoes are a favorite in our house. Papa Woody goes weak in the knees over a good cheese sauce. Since it's so easy... I indulge him every once in awhile! 
Sometimes I'll make standard scalloped potatoes as a side but tonight I felt like doing a one dish recipe so I threw some ham in there and it was delish!

Here's what you'll need:

8 medium russet potatoes (approx. $1.50)
1 lb fully cooked smoked ham ($1.75)
4 tbsp butter ($.25)
4 tbsp flour ($.05)
3 cups milk (approx. $.40)
8 oz Velveeta ($1.50)
2 tsp prepared mustard ($.05)
Garlic powder
Onion powder

Boil your potatoes as is until fork tender or cook in the pressure cooker (my preferred method!) but don't peel them first. After they've been cooked, allow the potatoes to cool so that you can handle them. I like to boil them early in the day so they are ready for use when it's time to prepare dinner.
Peel the cooked potatoes and cube them. Cube up your ham and set aside. 
Now you are going to make your cheese sauce which is super simple and super yummy. Start by melting the butter in a sauce pan. Once melted, slowly add your flour and whisk over med-high heat for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in your milk a little at a time to avoid clumps. turn down to med-low to avoid scalding the sauce.
Whisk in mustard. Season the white sauce with salt, pepper, onion & garlic powder to taste. Add in cubed Velveeta and whisk to melt. Taste and season again if necessary.
In a 9x13 pan, lay out cubed potatoes. Pour half of the cheese sauce over the potatoes. Top with cubed ham then top with the remaining cheese sauce.
Cover and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Uncover and bake another 10 minutes. Let sit 5-10 minutes before serving! Makes 8 servings for only $5.50. That's only $.69 per serving!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Mama's Cheesy Chicken Spaghetti ($1.35 per serving!)

Here's a recipe that I've seen many versions of just floating around the internet. I've even eaten it once at a relative's house but the dish that I recall was suuuuper thick and suuuuuper cheesy in a not so good way - yes, it is possible to have too much cheese (blasphemy!). I wanted to do a pasta dish tonight for supper but didn't want to go Italian which is the obvious route so I decided to tweak this dish a little. I scoured the web for a whopping 15 minutes and couldn't find a recipe that looked right. So what's a mama to do? Make it up as I go!  A little of this, a little of that... some more milk... a little more cheese. Took a little longer than it should have but now that I know what works it should go much faster next time!

This is what I came up with:

12 oz dry spaghetti noodles ($.79 on sale)
4 boneless chicken thighs (approx. $3.00)
1/4 cup butter or margarine ($.30)
2 cans cream of chicken soup ($1.25 on sale)
1 can Rotel, mild ($.97)
8 oz Velveeta ($1.50 on sale)
3/4 cup milk ($.27)
Salt & Pepper

In a large pot, boil chicken thighs in salted water for about 15 minutes until fully cooked. Remove chicken and chop into pieces but do not discard the water. Boil the spaghetti noodles in the chicken broth until cooked through. Drain and dump water but do not rinse the pasta!
Use the same pot to melt the butter and saute the chicken for a quick minute. Add in the Rotel and cream of soups. Sprinkle with salt & pepper and maybe some garlic or onion powder if you're feeling a little more flavor! Once heated through add in cubed Velveeta and heat over low until cheese as melted. Stir in milk and season to taste. Add in the spaghetti and toss to coat. Serve it up! Big 'ol Pot that easily feeds 6 for only $8.08. That's only around $1.35 per serving!

**You could probably do a full 16 oz box of spaghetti noodles and easily stretch this to 8 servings. I did a 12 oz box and it was still pretty saucy but I didn't want to cook more pasta just to add to it!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Surprise! 40 people for dinner!

Okay... true story.

This morning I woke up at 6:30am and proceeded to get my littlest's diaper changed and bottle fixed. While I am giving him his wake-up bottle I am looking through the emails that showed up in my inbox overnight. One email was from 5:00am - informing me that at my eldest son's boy scout meeting (12 hours from then) there was to be a potluck and the pack leader was asking us (every parent in the pack) to bring a dish if we could.

My first reaction was: What?!?! That's like no notice at all! Good thing I don't have anything else to do today! (note the sarcasm). But then I thought a little longer and figured it wasn't that big of a deal. Afterall, I hadn't seen more than a dozen kids in his pack. So it shouldn't be too hard to whip something up for this Potluck dinner.

So it's 3:15pm (150 minutes until the Potluck) and I go to pickup my little Woodchuck from school. While he is walking up to the car I noticed that his pack leader was parked a couple spaces ahead. I told him to walk over and ask her approximately how many people we should be cooking for. He came back and reported: FORTY. 4-0 PEOPLE!

So we went home and I stared into the cabinets. What do I have on hand that can feed 40 people???
I had to go into the canned good section on my stockpile. I always have an abundance of canned beans so I figured I'd go signature campsite fare. BBQ beans... but that's too boring. I figured maybe I could grab a few packages of hot dogs out of the freezer to cut up and toss in there too. Even more classic campfire fare. Better still... I found 4 packages of John Morrell cocktail smokies that I had bought a couple months ago on a crazy good BOGO sale.

So in all I used:
8 cans Van Kamp's Pork & Beans ($3.20 on sale)
4 pkg John Morrell Cocktail Smokies ($3.38 on sale)
1 cup brown sugar ($.30)
1 cup BBQ sauce ($.50)
couple good shakes of liquid smoke ($.05)

Threw everything in a pot. Cooked through and dumped the contents into (and filled to the brim) two 9x13 disposable pans. BOOM. Dinner for 40 for around $7.43! That's around 18 cents per person!!

This is a prime example of the benefit of having a few key ingredients stockpiled at home!

Not too bad for having little to no time to prepare! ;-)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

How I do flour...

As you probably know from my post about RICE - I enjoy buying some things in bulk. I do the same thing with flour for the same reason: It is sooo much cheaper!

I buy both All-Purpose flour and Bread flour at Sam's Club because that's where I find the best price compared to Walmart (or even Aldi!).

Walmart Great Value Brand 5 lb bag $1.72 = $.34 per pound
Sam's Club Bakers 25 lb bag $6.47 = $.25 per pound

What's even greater savings at Sam's Club is bread flour. It's within pennies of price to the All-purpose flour it's even more expensive at Walmart since Great Value doesn't make a bread flour (that I've found). Some people say that bread flour isn't any different than all-purpose but I do notice a difference so I always use bread flour when I make breads or pizza doughs (or whenever a recipe specifically calls for bread flour).

Walmart Pillsbury Bread Flour 5 lbs $2.88 = $.58 per pound
Sam's Club Bakers Bread Flour 25 lb bag $6.54 = $.26 per pound

Storing flour is super important. You cannot just store it in the bag it comes in. There is too much access to air - hence why flour can buff out the sides or top when you pick it up. Flour is one of those things that I keep stored in food grade buckets in our basement. I portion the flour in gallon size ziploc bags and put those in a lidded bucket. The absolute best way to store is to freeze the bags of flour (for two weeks) before putting them in the buckets because that kills any nastiness that might be hiding in the flour. My freezers are currently full so I can't do that this time... living on the edge and praying I don't regret it! Each gallon bag holds approximately 5 lbs of flour so that makes it easy to keep track of how much I have left.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Creamy Chicken & Rice Soup (a leftovers recipe!)

I've found the absolute best ever use of leftovers. Best. EVER!
We make chicken fairly often in our house... strangely enough because it has suddenly become cheaper than ground beef. Weird!
A frequent pairing to chicken is rice. It goes together so well! I came across a garlic ranch chicken with rice recipe and I wanted to give it a try but the recipe made WAAAAY more food than we could eat (this was my suspicion right away but we like having leftovers!) so I decided to use the leftovers to make a whole new meal. I was completely wingin' it and it turned out so wonderfully delicious and it was basically free because I used almost all leftovers!

Now, the veggies part of this recipe is completely flexible. I used a cup of diced celery (that was in my freezer) and a big handful of rough chopped baby carrots that were hanging out in my veggie drawer. You could use any veggie on hand: celery, carrots, broccoli, corn, peas, cauliflower... or just leave the vegetables out. I won't tell!

You'll need:
1 boneless chicken breast, diced (leftover)
2 cups cooked rice (leftover)
2 cups any veggies (leftover)
4 tbsp butter
6 tbsp flour
3 cups milk
2 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
garlic powder
onion powder

In a pan, melt the butter over medium high heat. Whisk in flour a tablespoon at a time until combined into a paste (we're making a roux because we are fancy frugal!). Cook for a minute or so until slightly browned. Whisk in milk about a 1/2 cup at a time. Keep the whisk in constant motion so that it all blends well and you don't end up with chunks. The roux will go through texture stages: Mashed potato to frosting to gravy. Once it reaches the gravy stage go ahead and dump the remaining milk in. Dust the cream sauce with salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. Let it simmer on a low setting stirring frequently. In a large pot, saute vegetables of choice in oil (or butter) for a few minutes. Add water and bouillon cubes, bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer. Once the vegetables are tender mix in the cream sauce. Add in chicken and rice. Mix well and salt/pepper to taste. Once the rice has been added you might need to add more water until you reach desired consistency since it will be much thicker!  Serve immediately.

This makes a LOT of soup... you can also stretch it even further by adding more water or milk to make it as loose as you'd like. As it sits it makes approximately 8 cups of hearty soup! For almost FREE!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Why I'm saying "No" to extreme couponing.

First off, I want to define "extreme couponing". I say that phrase and the first thing people think of is purchasing 200 tubes of toothpaste for pennies in sales tax. That's not what I mean when I say extreme couponing. What I am referring to is simply the act of purchasing goods on a weekly (and sometimes daily) basis using coupons to get a discount of 60-100% off retail - regardless of whether or not you need the item at the time in an effort to amass a stockpile (or home grocery store) containing goods that you may eventually use. This doesn't necessarily mean you'll buy 200 tubes of toothpaste at one time but you eventually might get there!

Next, a little personal history lesson. I started couponing a little here and there when my oldest was still a baby. We'd go through phases where money was slim and I wanted to make sure we always had enough food to eat and could use our cash to keep the electricity on. I did not have a huge stockpile - I had just enough to last a few weeks. Back then couponing resources were scarce and I honestly couldn't figure out how to go "hog wild" with it on my own. About 4 years ago many couponing blogs started popping up with bloggers who had mastered the art of "extreme couponing" and I started following. Within weeks... I had a good hang of it! I have now reached a point where many friends come to me with questions about sales or how to use a coupon. I have seemingly all the answers and I love being helpful! I have a huge stockpile that I'm sure could sustain my family a solid year (with the exception of fresh fruits, veggies and dairy items!) and even longer than that when it comes to hygienic products. But this is also why I am choosing to quit...

Time is of the essence. Couponing takes time.
A LOT of time and even more stress. Let me paint a picture:  

There are several steps that come with being an extreme couponer. 
1) you must search sale ads
2) you must search couponing blogs (and you'll want to search multiple ones because one might not have something another has found!)
3) you must locate coupons and store
4) you must organize coupons
5) you must eventually cut coupons
6) you must go to the store (which can be disappointing if some items you went for are out of stock, then you must go back another day!)
7) you must checkout with a stack of coupons and hope it all rings up correctly (stressful!)
8) you must bring it all home
9) you must carry it all inside
10) THEN you have to put it somewhere. You cannot just throw it down - it needs a place. You also have to make sure that you are rotating stock so that older items don't go bad while the newer items are being used. THIS TAKES A LONG TIME. 

**And you get to do this routine for EVERY STORE YOU SHOP. Because it is hard to only shop at one store for deals when you know there are deals on different things at another store.

There is loads of stress and it's for multiple things. 
1) Stress if you planned to get something that is out of stock - wasted time. 
2) Stress at the register trying to make sure the prices rang up correctly and the coupon deducted the correct amount from the total - and there will almost ALWAYS be errors. And it's incredibly frustrating to know that you spent hours planning a trip to find out that you overpaid. GGrrrrr!!
3) Stress over organizing the stockpile - there is ALWAYS something to put away! least it feels that way.
4) Stress over missing out on a good deal - because if you don't get there first then you might not get it. 
5) Stress over finding out you spent too much when you decided to stock up and you punish yourself because you could have saved another $.70 if you would have just waited!! (but note that there is NO WAY that you can see the future, but still you punish yourself...)

Extreme couponing DOES cost money. And depending on your budget - A LOT of money.
Let's say you want to stock up on three things: Canned tomatoes, salad dressing and body wash. There's an AMAZING deal! Canned tomatoes are $.35 per can, dressings are $.75 a bottle and body wash is $.75 each (after all coupons). We are going to buy a modest amount of each because you need to stock up. Let's say 12 cans of tomatoes, 6 bottles of dressing and 5 body washes.

$.35 x 12 cans = $4.20 (retail $10.56)
$.75 x 6 bottles = $4.50 (retail $11.28)
$.75 x 5 washes = $3.75 (retail $9.40)

Total = $12.45 plus tax.

Most states make you pay sales tax on the PRE-coupon amount so in my state that would be around (give or take) $3.05 in sales tax. 

SO after sales tax the total out of pocket is around $15.50 which is awesome! 
But what if your grocery budget for the week is only $75.00?? That's a fairly big chunk to spend on only 3 items! To get a stockpile with a wide variety of items, it is my opinion that you need to stock up on between 5-10 particular items per week. That can hit your grocery budget big time. And yes... you can get some items for "free" but you do need to pay sales tax. And let's not forget the money you spend actually buying the coupon whether it's from a clipping service or simply purchasing a newspaper. Coupons cost money unless they are given to you for free. The grocery budget can easily be thrown off course if you are buying those "good deals" every week.

Let's take a moment and talk about the mess...

Now I want to say, I'm not complaining... much. Having too much food in your house is a wonderful problem to have but it is a problem. What is pictured is my kitchen. Not my stockpile room... the kitchen only. And it's not including above most of my cabinets (which is a littered mess). I cannot find ANYTHING! I need to eventually take the time to pull everything out and organize it - maybe even break out the label maker. But having a 6 month old baby - I have no idea when I'll have the time or energy to do this. It seriously stresses me out to look at it.

You know what upsets me more than anything? I have spent dozens of hours couponing for things that we never even got to use before potentially going bad. Our family has donated thousands of dollars worth of items to the local food bank which is a great thing to do but it was not my initial intention when I purchased the items. I always donate food items and will continue to do so since there will always be a place in my heart for food banks but that's not the only reason I coupon... I want my family to benefit first and foremost! Unfortunately when I go overboard my family doesn't always reap the benefits of my labor. Which can be rather disappointing.

Now since little Woodchip is here I am realizing more and more how very precious my time is. Not just because I want to spend all day looking at his sweet face but because there are so many things that I need to do with my time while he naps! Ordering takeout for dinner because I spent my allotted cooking time putting away the stockpile defeats the purpose of trying to save money!

So in conclusion I have made the final assumption. Extreme couponing might not be for me anymore - time to retire. I will continue to shop sales weekly and will even use a few coupons to get some deals in moderation (preferably the printable coupons so I'm no longer juggling newspaper inserts) but I am only shopping ONE DAY per week. That's it! It's going to be hard. It's an addiction... seriously... an addiction. But it's what I need to do!

For anyone who still has an interest in couponing or wants to learn: More power to you!! I don't want to bash couponing. Don't get me wrong - It is AWESOME to have a grocery store in your home and I strongly believe that everyone should keep some form of stockpile in their home - just maybe do it in another way without going coupon crazy! I never run out of anything non-perishable. But I need to call it quits. Feel free to still ask me questions - I still have the knowledge!

For anyone wanting to start couponing: I highly recommend going to to get started. They have a beginners section and loads of youtube tutorials. Poke around their site and I'll bet you learn tons! ;^)

Welp... this post explains the shift in the blog posts! Hopefully you'll stick around to see what else I might find to post about!

Later my forest friends!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Why you should buy bread... REDUCED!

I love homemade bread. Everything about it from the smell that fills the house to the way a pat of butter melts over the warm soft center. And especially how much cheaper it is to bake it at home over buying it at the grocery store. However, sometimes we all get a little lazy. When I decide last minute to switch up the menu to something that involves french bread as a side I don't always give myself enough time to throw the ingredients in the bread machine to have it ready in time for dinner. So I like to have a couple loaves in the freezer when this situation arises! But if I'm planning to just throw the bread into the freezer - I don't want to buy a fresh baked fluffy loaf at full price... that's just silly! Almost every time I'm at Wal-mart, over on the discount bakery rack, there are a few loaves of french bread for 50% off! For the longest time 50% off meant $.84 per loaf but over the last couple months they've only been $.50!! Sahh-weeeet!

So here's what I like to do. For our family we eat about 1/3 a loaf with a meal (when using it for something like garlic bread) so I divide the loaf into 3 sections. I do not use a freezer bag as personal preference - I have found that wrapping the loaf with one layer of cling wrap and then wrapping again in aluminum foil does the trick!

Now what do I use the bread for once it is frozen and then thawed? The bulk of the time I use it to make some form of garlic bread. Other times I'll use it for things like french bread pizza or as a boat for bbq chicken topped with cheese. I will confess that I have never thawed it to use for something like sandwiches. I've only ever used it for toasting or baking so I'm not sure how freezing will affect the fluffiness of the loaf. Hopefully I've inspired you to shop the discount bakery rack!

Stay frugal my forest friends!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Hot dog bun breadsticks!

I don't know about you but I'm starting to think that our family is incapable of finishing an 8 count package of hot dog buns. We'll use them for the intended purpose but we'll always have 3, 2 or 1 left in the pack and we are bad about coming back and finishing them off. And then they get moldy and I get sad as I throw them away. So I started putting the buns in a freezer bag and freezing them but rather than defrosting them to use as regular hot dog buns (which you could do), I like to thaw them and make them into breadsticks!

Too simple really... pull out however many you need a few hours before hand to thaw on a paper towel. Slice them the rest of the way through, butter the tops (gotta be real butter!), sprinkle with garlic salt and parsley then bake at 350 degrees for about 5 minutes and broil on low until browned as desired. Make sure not to overbake! Being so thin they cook much faster than you'd expect and you could end up with extra crispy bread!

My favorite part, besides the buttery taste, is that they are basically FREE because they otherwise would've ended up in the trash!

And yes... I do this with hamburger buns as well! If I don't make them into garlic bread discs then I'll butter and toast them to use for things like open face sloppy joes... MMmmmmm *drool*

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Cheesy Bacon Ranch Mashed Taters ($.50 per serving)

I adore my pressure cooker. It's an electric cooker and it's much less intimidating than a traditional stove top pressure cooker. It feels like a crockpot but does so much more! Using this pressure cooker I can whip up some homemade mashed potatoes in about 20 minutes and they're perfect every time. This is one of my favorite mashed potatoes to make... so yummy no gravy is required!

4 strip bacon ($.50 on sale)
6 russet potatoes, peeled and quartered (approx. $1)
2 cups water (free)
3 tbsp butter ($.30)
1/2 tsp salt (penny)
1/4 tsp pepper (penny)
1/4 tsp garlic powder (pennies)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese ($.40 or free*)
1/4-1/2 cup ranch salad dressing ($.25-$.50)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese ($.50)

Cook bacon in the pressure cooker pan and set aside leaving the bacon grease in the pan. Add 2 cups water and potatoes and cook for 6 minutes high pressure. Quick release pressure and strain the potatoes and return to the pot. Add all ingredients except bacon and shredded cheese. Mash all with potato masher (add in enough ranch dressing until you've reached desired creaminess) and stir in shredded cheese and crumbled bacon. Serve immediately! Costs around $3.00 for 6 servings!

If you don't have a pressure cooker then the recipe can easily be adapted for stove top. Simply cook the bacon, remove and set aside then boil potatoes in the same pan until tender (you'll likely need to double the water for boiling). Strain and return to pot and mash all ingredients together!

*I like to use parmesan cheese packets that you get from pizza hut for things like this. I always ask for extra packets when we order pizza and I use them as add-ins for things like potatoes!

Friday, June 19, 2015

How I got my baby to sleep the way I wanted!

So this post is going to be a long one since there's so much ground to cover. But the reason for this post is significant for anyone who is struggling with the late, wakeful nights with their newborn. The following post is about my personal trial and error and how I finally got my little one to sleep all night long and in his crib at 13 weeks old.
Now before I even begin I want to make a statement. During my personal nighttime struggles with a newborn, I did a lot of internet research while nursing my son for hours on end to figure out how to get my baby to sleep not only for a significant stretch of time but alone in a bed as well. There were many bloggers and people posting on forums out there that would say things or comment things such as "I'm not sure why your baby won't sleep. My baby slept 10 hours a night when they were 8 weeks old..." While I was reading these I was offended to be honest. Maybe it was because at the time my son was 8 weeks old and screaming his head off after 30 minutes of sleeping in his cradle alone. How dare these women post comments on a forum where clearly mothers are searching for help to a problem that they can't seem to solve on their own. The audacity of these women with their "perfect" sleeping children posting about their perfect little lives just to make the original mother asking the question feel like they are doing something wrong and it's their fault their baby isn't sleeping a full night at a mere 8 weeks old. Now the tables have turned. My son is a couple days shy of 14 weeks old and he's breezing through nights and sleeping in his own crib. I am proud to say that now I'm one of those mothers that pissed me off via mothering forums. Now that the shoe is on the other foot - I will say something that I never read about those other moms. I did a shit ton of work to get my son to sleep through the night. I didn't simply lay him in his crib and say "nighty night" and off to sleep he went. There were months of agony, weeks of stress, days of tears and hours of pain. All the while I tried every tip I read about and every common sense tactic I could think of. There was not one hour that I wasn't contemplating a new technique to try just to get my newborn to sleep so that I could sleep. After all these weeks of failure after failure and tear after weepy tear I am proud to say that I've finally found what works for my newborn. I will tell you this right off the bat - a lot of it has to do with age. Babies younger than 12 weeks are not built to sleep so long. Their tiny tummies need food every couple hours and their small bodies need to keep hydrated. So if you have high hopes of your baby sleeping all night when their under 3 months old - you're setting yourself up for disappointment. I have chosen to make note of what is working for me in hopes that another mother out there with my same struggle might have one or more of these things help her. Being a mom is being a part of a special club and we need to help each other out rather than tear each other down. This is the story of how I got my newborn to sleep all night... in his own crib.

First things first... no two babies are the same. It couldn't be more true than when comparing my own two sons. One being the baby that this post centers around and the other being my eldest 9 year old. When my oldest was born, he was born with a cleft lip and partial cleft palate. His upper lip was fused into his right nostril and he has a gap in his gums where two teeth should be. Because he was born with this he was unable to breastfeed which was a big disappointment to me. I wanted him to have the nutritional benefits and bonding experience that comes with being breastfed but alas it was unattainable. So he was bottle fed formula (because my milk dried up so quickly even though I tried to pump) and the nights were challenging as with any baby. However, when he was 3 months old I was given an unexpected silver lining to his cleft lip. As soon as he turned 3 months old he had surgery to repair his lip and then was prescribed baby tylenol with codeine so that he could sleep at night. And it was that easy. After two weeks of the codeine (and sleeping 12 hour nights) a good habit was formed and from that moment on he slept from 7pm till 7am. Every. Single. Night. Even as a toddler he slept like a dream.

Now baby #2 nearly a decade later... born perfectly "normal" without any obstacles to overcome where feeding is concerned. In fact, he latched to the breast within 30 seconds of trying after 5 minutes of being a part of the outside world! Finally I was able to breastfeed. What I didn't realize was that this blessing would come with a whole new set of challenges that I was unaware I'd face. Call it ignorance. Of course everybody knows how difficult the late nights are in theory but until you are smack dab in the middle of it yourself you really don't know what to expect. Because my littlest is breastfed I was quite literally ON MY OWN at nighttime. Since I'm a stay at home mom and daddy goes to work everyday it's an understanding that I would be the one to get up during the night. However, even if daddy offers to help so you can sleep... if you're exclusively breastfeeding there is NOTHING daddy can do so you've got to figure out how to deal with the exhaustion and frustration all by yourself. Sad and depressing but very true. I struggled with the "baby blues" hardcore for the first month until I gave in and slowly started doing what I had to do to take care not only the baby but myself as well.

First step was to get myself rested. I had to admit to myself and realize that I was no good to my children if I was sleep deprived and depressed. What did I know? I knew that my (at the time) 2 week old ate every 90 minutes to 2 hours during the day and every 2 to 3 hours during the night. I knew he slept longer stretches if I was holding him and that he'd cry within 30 minutes of being put in his cradle. So the only way I was going to get any amount of significant sleep was by holding him. And that's what I did as terrifying as it was to me. They really brow - beat the facts into you. Babies MUST sleep alone in a crib on their backs. Nothing in the crib. No breastfeeding while sleeping because the baby can suffocate. No blankets or the baby might suffocate. No sleeping on baby's side or they might roll over and suffocate!! The professionals scare the living bejeezus out of you. And this is just plain mean. As a new mother you're already scared to death of something happening to your child with the whole SIDS thing. I personally didn't sleep a wink during the first 48 hours because he was making weird noises and I was terrified he was going to choke on spit up. But they add to it by drilling in all the things you shouldn't do. Fact is, lots of our parents and grandparents did what they had to do to be a parent and many kids survived. I think the most dangerous thing to a tiny baby is a parent who is incoherent because they are so sleep deprived. While I agree with most things they say, I do believe that they beat it to death and terrify new parents in the process and that's not right. That being said, I gave in and I slept in the recliner while holding my newborn son. I'd place him on his back in the Boppy pillow so that his head and legs were elevated and my body and the other side of the pillow kept him from moving. And he'd sleep perfectly safe and sound. When he'd wake up, I'd simply pop the boobie in his mouth and go back to sleep. I was reclined enough so that I didn't lean forward. There was no chance (in my opinion) of smothering him while I breastfed. I was FINALLY getting some rest and a 2 or 3 hour nap felt like a 6 hour stretch... and it was glorious.

Next step (at 4 weeks) was trying to squeeze in some extra sleep during the daytime by having daddy give him a bottle of breastmilk. Easier said than done. This little one was sucking me dry and when I'd pump I would barely produce an ounce between both breasts AND then his nursing time would increase because I was robbing my little baby of milk. After two weeks off and on of unsuccessful pumping I gave it up. I couldn't ever make enough to fill a bottle big enough to satisfy him so why bother?

Off topic interjection... sleeping while the baby sleeps is a tip much easier said than done!! No matter how damn exhausted I was... I just could not fall asleep after 10am or before 8pm. So I look at that tip as a sick joke. Sleep when the baby sleeps, my ass! Moving on...

At 7 weeks old, I decided to try and crib-train my little one. By crib-train, I simply mean to get him to sleep any amount of time in his crib. I'd place him in his crib for a few minutes randomly during the day just so he could get a feel for it while he was awake. Then night one came rolling around and it was a disaster. I read somewhere that most babies don't cry longer than 20 minutes before finally falling asleep. Well my littlest went 4 frickin' hours so he must be a superhuman breed! I'd pick him up to nurse him every hour just to make sure hunger wasn't the cause of his crying but that didn't work. Finally around 4am I gave up and put him in bed with me. Which brings me to another experiment. Co-sleeping has its praisers and its naysayers. I thought I'd give it a try since I was missing my bed and my husband that goes with it. I lasted two nights. While I got the same amount of sleep as in the recliner I wasn't nearly as comfortable. I found that I was so paranoid and stiff that I'd wake up sore from my body being so tense all night long - fearing that I'd roll onto him while we slept. So I resolved to go back to the recliner. I don't think he was ready for the crib and I wasn't ready to force him.

When he was about 9 weeks old I started trying to force him to sleep in his Rock-n-Play cradle. I started doing it during the daytime for naps. I'd nurse him until he started to fall asleep and then I'd slowly lay him down into it. If he started to wake I'd just rock it back and forth while shushing him. Sometimes he went to sleep and other times he'd stay wide awake. Either way I let him be. If he cried I just stayed close and touched him. I needed him to start seeing that Mommy couldn't hold him constantly. I also started a definitive bedtime routine at night. Boob, bath, lotion, boob, bed. After about 3 nights he started sleeping in the cradle for his first nighttime stretch of sleep. I believe that it was a soothing warm bath followed by nursing lead him to being so sleepy that he didn't care where he was! So now I had the first step accomplished. He'd go to sleep that first time in his cradle (next to the bed) after being nursed but when he'd wake up 2 to 3 hours later for that first feeding - going back to sleep after was a different story. Sometimes it would take me an hour to 90 minutes to get him to go back to sleep in the cradle. Sometimes I'd resort to just putting him in bed with us after he woke from that first stretch since it was unlikely he'd go down easily. I was achy but at least I was still sleeping!!

When he was between 11 and 12 weeks old I made the decision to start supplementing with Similac Supplementation Formula at least one feeding a day - choosing an evening feeding in attempts to get a longer sleep pattern. This was a difficult decision for me because I love breastfeeding my little guy but I think my primary reason for not doing it sooner was that I thought I'd feel like a failure. It's a very hard thing to exclusively breastfeed. In theory, it's easy but in reality it takes determination and strength. I didn't want to fail. I wanted to hang on and be strong. But my mommy senses were tingling and I knew it needed to be done. In all the reading I had done it was common knowledge that babies 12 weeks old should be able to space out feedings at least 3 hours during the daytime and some babies were even capable of sleeping 6 or 8 hours straight at night. My little one wasn't even close to this milestone. In fact, he was still nursing as frequently during the daytime as he was when he was 4 weeks old. Something wasn't right. My insides were telling me that he needed more than I could give my growing boy. So I made that decision for the well being of my son. That being said, giving him a bottle of formula was easier said than done!

I mixed him 4 oz of formula in a breastflow bottle (this was the bottle recommended to me by my midwife) and the second he tasted a drop of formula he cried. And cried. And cried. And then he screamed. So I decided to try earlier the following day because it was too late in the evening to push it. The next day I tried giving him a bottle before he was tired and cranky. He didn't cry at the taste of the formula (right way) but he couldn't figure out how to suck on the nipple. I hadn't even considered the fact that he might not know how to drink from a bottle. After all, he had taken a bottle of breastmilk from his daddy a few times before. But he couldn't figure out how to take a bottle from me. And he cried. And cried. And cried. And then he screamed. So I put if off for the following day. The rest of that day I Googled my heart out and I read many posts on many forums. I had a lot of things that I tried. So many things were tried that I'd rather not explain them all so I'll just tell you what DID work for me...

Gerber apple juice, Playtex medium flow breast like shaped nipples and eating in his bouncer. He simply would not take the bottle while I held him - he expected the boob and got mad when it was a bottle. So I started feeding him while he was in his Rock-n-Play or bouncer and it worked! He did struggle with latching on but he finally figured it out when I slid my pinky inside his mouth along side the nipple. Don't ask me how it worked but it worked! I finally got him to take the formula by replacing about a half ounce of water with apple juice per 4 oz of formula. You might need a little more for that first time. Then I found the Breastflow bottles couldn't keep up with him. It took 30 minutes for him to eat 3 ounces. I switched to a regular bottle nipple and he was done with 4 or 5 ounces in 10 minutes! I also introduced a sprinkle of rice cereal in his bottle. The first night I did this he slept 6 hours. Yes... SIX HOURS!! Double his longest stretch only the day before. AMAZING!
The first night I introduced rice cereal into his formula I also got him to sleep in his crib. YES! HIS CRIB! Not his Rock-n-Play, not in his carseat, not with me in the recliner... the dreaded crib. Before this accomplishment I had to sit and evaluate a few things to figure out how to beat this enormous feat. What did I know? I knew the first time I laid him FLAT on the mattress he cried for 4 hours. I know that he likes to have a blanket touching his cheek. I know that he likes to be held and the crib sheet is cold. So here's what I did...

I bought a crib wedge on Amazon for around $20 and I bought a pool noodle at Family Dollar for a buck. I cut the pool noodle into 3 pieces. Two equally long and the third piece smaller (around 10 inches or so). I placed the wedge on the crib mattress and pieced the 3 noodles in a "U" shape at the base of the wedge. Then I covered it all with the crib sheet. I then laid a baby comforter over it so it was a nice and soft. I know that they say no blankets and nothing in the bed with baby but I felt this was safe enough since the noodles and wedge is underneath the sheet and he's too little to roll over into the blanket. That night after his bottle, bath and boobie, instead of placing him in his cradle I placed him in the crib instead. And he slept for SIX HOURS! My plan is to slowly start moving the noodles further out until they are gone completely. I also can't forget to add that I have a box fan running in the room for a white noise sound. He wakes up if it gets silent!!

So now he's 12 weeks old, going on 13, and sleeping in his crib. However the length of time he slept was still yo-yo-ing. Some nights he'd sleep a 4 hour stretch, eat, then another 2 hours, eat, then another two hours. Some nights he'd sleep 6.5 hours, eat, then another 3 hours and be wide awake. It was nowhere near consistent and I didn't know why. I thought maybe some days he was getting more food than others? Some evenings he drank a 3 oz bottle and some evenings he drank 7 oz! So I started doing 3 bottles a day so I had a better grasp of how much he was eating. As soon as I began the 1pm bottle, 5 pm bottle and 9pm bottle he got more consistent. He guaranteed 6 hours straight every night. But then three nights ago something significant happened. I gave him his 9pm bottle and then his bath followed by nursing him to sleep as I did every night before. He drifted and I put him in bed but he woke up. Crying. And crying... so I picked him up to nurse him to sleep and he suckled and cried, suckled and cried. My mommy senses told me he was hungry and wasn't getting what he wanted so I made him another bottle and fed him about 3 oz, then nursed him to sleep. That night he slept 7 hours! So I figured maybe he needs the bottle closer to bedtime? Two nights ago I did bath first then bottle. After burping him and having no interest left in the bottle I swaddled him up and nursed him to sleep. And he slept 8 hours straight! Then last night. Last night was glorious. I gave him his bath, fed him his bottle, gave him a good burp then nursed him to sleep. And he slept a whopping, mind blowing 9 1/2 HOURS!!! The real shocker was that I was the one who woke him up to eat. Had I not woken him he might've gone 10 hours or more! After experimenting with a bottle, I think that it's a key element with sleep and it's something that I'm highly in favor of. I know exactly how much he eats before he goes to sleep and he seems to eat MORE from a bottle before he falls asleep. By giving him a bottle in the rocker first THEN holding and nursing him I know for certain he has fallen asleep with a very full belly which leads to more sleep for everyone.

Swaddling. Some babies like to be swaddled and some hate it. My little guy HATES it. This was something we struggled with from the beginning. Some babies sleep in their cribs effortlessly simply because they are hugged in a blanket. Not my kid. He'd fight it until his arms were free and cry. He'd fall asleep fine not swaddled but in his sleep his arms would move and his fists would find their way to his mouth and he'd wake himself up every time. That was my dilemma. So I quit trying, however, when I got this idea of putting all this stuff in the crib along with a blanket I didn't want to take the chance of his tiny baby hands finding the blanket and pulling it over his face. So I tried swaddling him again in a swaddle blanket (the ones with the velcro) but I waited until he was good and sleepy. When he was too tired to protest he seemed to enjoy being swaddled and I truly believe that has a lot to do with his long stretches of sleep.  So if your little one doesn't like to be swaddled try putting them in the blanket while they're awake but leave their arms free. As they get sleepy simply open it up and slip their arms in. They're less likely to fight you then. I also only swaddle him at bedtime... not for naps.

Pacifiers. Some babies are attached to pacifiers. Mine is not! I have tried and tried to get him to take a pacifier but he won't do it so I have to resort to nursing him to sleep for now. Once I have to wean him off the breast I don't know how I'll do it but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. If your baby will sleep while sucking on a pacifier... that alone might make this whole process easier!

Also, do not pick up baby as soon as they start to fuss during the night! Sometimes my little one will wake up and start to make waking noises. Not full-fledged crying... just noise making or slight fussing. It lasts about 30 seconds but he almost always goes back to sleep. Something I've learned through both research and experience is that just because a baby wakes up doesn't mean they are ready to get up. As humans we go through many cycles of sleep every night. Adults have 90 minute cycles and babies have 40 minute cycles. We wake while we sleep and 9 times out of 10 don't even realize it. Babies do the same thing but sometimes have a harder time going back to sleep if they're a little hungry. If you give them a minute, as long as they aren't crying, they have a good chance of falling right back into slumber. Something else that helps them drift back off to sleep is consistency. This is where a dim light or white noise comes into play. If they drift off to sleep and wake to the same sight and sounds then they're less likely to startle. This is also why I chose to introduce him to his crib during the daytime while he was happy and awake. I'd turn his mobile on and make it a happy place. If the crib is a place he associated with abandonment or crying then he won't be comfortable sleeping there either. After that 4 hour long crying session back in week 7 I gave the crib a break for a couple weeks to wash that bad experience from his little memory. When we went back and spent happy, playful daytime in the crib I think it really helped.

I've also found that he needs an evening nap or he has trouble falling asleep. Right now this is the tentative schedule that he follows:
10am morning nap
11am bottle
1230pm nap (maybe)
130pm bottle
230pm afternoon nap
5pm bottle
7pm evening nap
9pm bath
930pm bottle
10pm bed

He breastfeeds if he wakes in the middle of the night and first thing in the morning. He also nurses to sleep for his morning, afternoon and evening naps. Basically he has a bottle while he's wide awake and nurses when he's getting tired. My original intention was only one bottle a day but after two days he started crying while nursing and chugging down bottles so I put two and two together and figured nursing couldn't keep up with demand. After multiple bottles per day I also noticed the amount he drinks is more consistent. Before bed he used to drink anywhere from 3 oz to 7 oz. Now he consistently drinks 4 to 5 oz before bed and 3 to 4 oz during the day.

Every part of me believes that I wasn't producing enough breastmilk to get him full enough to sleep a significant amount of time. Though I might have been producing enough to keep him from being malnourished I was not producing enough to keep us all comfortable. Being unable to pump was a red flag as well as having to nurse him every hour of the daytime. From that first bottle on I noticed a difference in him. He was finally full bellied and satisfied. And it showed in the length of time he slept that first night.

So here's a breakdown of what's working for us step by step each night:

1) Bedtime routine including a bath and baby massage with lotion. If I don't give him and bath I still make sure I do the lotion before jammies and swaddle blanket. Dim down all lights. This is important!
2) Bottle right before bed with a little rice cereal sprinkled in. I'd estimate about half a tablespoon worth in a 4 oz bottle.
3)  The bedroom is already prepped for a drowsy baby before he's sleepy. I find that my little one gives me a window of time to walk him to his crib. If I miss my window he wakes up and I have to get him sleepy again. Make sure your white noise is already going (whether it's a sound machine or box fan) and all nights are off or dimmed. We have a small dim lamp with a blue light bulb near the crib. Dark enough to tell it's sleepy time but light enough so you can see.
4) Tuck in those arms! When baby's belly is nice and full and he's drowsy... tuck his arms into the swaddle blanket and secure. Then do whatever you do to make them fall asleep whether it's nursing or a pacifier.
5) After seamlessly levitating the baby into his crib (whether it's prepped with wedge and noodles is up to you!) always leave your hand touching him. He can smell you there! After laying mine down I literally hover very closely over him in the crib. He always opens his eye right when he's placed in the crib. Being so close over him tricks him into thinking that I'm still holding him. Stay put for about 30 seconds. Lay your hand on his belly, chest or top of his head... avoid the cheeks. This could make him think he wants to eat and could wake him up!!
6) Tip-toe away and save the silent happy dance when you're out of sight. Then go get some sleep!!

Overall tips for you to try:

1) Routine, routine, routine! Even the simplest routine can trigger nighttime in baby's eyes. Whether it's a bath, a song, a story or even something as simple as giving them that final bottle before bed with all the lights turned way down (I choose to stress giving a bottle before bed whether it's breastmilk or formula, that way you know exactly how much he is eating before he falls asleep, even if it's the ONLY bottle the baby gets in a day). I even put his lotion on the same way every time: face cream first, lotion legs then belly then back then arms then head. Same system every night!
It's insanity to expect a tiny baby to know it's bedtime just because you put them in a bed. They need to ease into it.
2) If baby is struggling with a bottle (after being primarily breastfed) try a few nipples to see what your baby prefers. If they struggle with any nipple try slipping your pinky in with the nipple. Don't ask me how it works but it works. I fought the nipple for several minutes then slipped my pinky in (while using the exact same nipple) and he started sucking right away. I was able to pull my pinky out almost immediately and he kept going!
3) If baby won't take formula try replacing a half ounce of the water with Gerber apple juice (per 4 ounces). This worked like a charm for me with the first try after he wouldn't touch straight formula.
4) Rice cereal in the bottle. Whether it's breastmilk or formula try sprinkling a little rice cereal in there to fill baby's tummy before bedtime. I would wait until baby is at least 3 months old before trying this personally. Also, avoid adding more than 1/4 or 1/2 tbsp. You don't want your baby filling up on the rice before getting all the nutrients he needs from the formula/milk.
5) White noise via a box fan where the baby sleeps. A consistent noise can help baby drift back to sleep if he wakes during the night. Silence is the enemy. When the room is silent... even a pin drop can wake baby!
6) When introducing the crib try putting baby in there during the daytime and not just for naps. Put him in there to look around when he's in a good mood to associate it with a safe and happy place! Also, try a crib wedge and shaped pool noodles under the sheet to trick baby into thinking they are being held. Make sure to eventually remove them as baby gets old enough to roll over though!
7) Swaddle only at bedtime and wait until baby is good and drowsy to do it.
8) If you place baby in the crib (after they've eaten and started falling asleep) and they wake up and start to fuss. Do not pick them up immediately. Give them a minute. Hum or shush them while touching them. Lean in as close as you can. Try a pacifier...They might just surprise you by going to sleep!
9) Pay attention to your baby! Try different things and pay attention to how your baby reacts. If you don't watch for the signs and evaluate what you already know then nothing will ever work for you. But if you remember what they like and try out a few unknowns you'll likely find something that works like a charm!

Like I said before, all babies are different... this is what worked for me through lots of trial and error. It was a ton of work and lots of tears but here we are. My little Woodchip is 13 weeks and 5 days old and he slept 9 1/2 hours straight last night. *HIGH FIVE*

The most important thing to realize is that you and ONLY YOU know your baby. Look at the signs and watch for the clues you need to put that curious little puzzle together. If I can leave you with one significant message it's this: hang in there. I truly believe it's all about age. I'm willing to bet that if I was to do this routine a month ago he wouldn't have slept that long. He also was too small for rice cereal a month ago. Give your baby 3 months to make the rules. Do whatever you've gotta do to take care of yourself as much as the baby. If you need to sleep in a recliner... then do it. If you need to put them in bed with you... then go for it (just be as safe as you can possibly be). I have come to realize that a lot changes at 3 months old. Once you hit that 12th week... do Mommy's rules! And stick to a schedule. Baby WILL catch on.

Don't beat yourself up about not breastfeeding exclusively. If you can pump enough for bottles then that's fantastic but if you can't... there's nothing wrong with you. If you choose not to breastfeed at all - that doesn't make you a worse mother than the ones that do. Doing what you have to do to keep your baby healthy is the most important thing. I spent way too much time trying to convince myself of how things were supposed to be and worrying about things in the future. Worry about getting through today. When you have a new baby your whole world is upside down  (in the best way) so don't worry about things not as important as getting through today. You'll drive yourself crazy. Let the laundry pile up, sleep with your baby if that's the only way you'll get rest and eat a bologna sandwich for dinner instead of cooking. And most of all... enjoy every minute. Because when this difficult time passes you'll be happily relieved but as equally saddened that it's over.

*Disclaimer. I'm not a baby expert but I am a professional Mom. My opinions are mine and I am not suggesting that someone do something that they find as an unsafe practice with their own child. This is what has worked for me and this is my story.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Envy Mama's Enchiladas! ($.91 per serving)

Oh yes... who doesn't like rich, decadent Mexican food? My kids... BUT us adults love them! So while the kids crunch on homemade tacos we'll be savoring ooey gooey cheesy enchiladas! Give my recipe a try!

You'll need:

1 lb ground beef ($2.99)
1 tbsp onion powder ($.04)
1 tsp minced garlic ($.05)
6 ounce can tomato paste ($.33)
8 oz water (free)
1.5 tbsp worcestershire sauce ($.08)
1/2 tbsp paprika ($.03)
1/2 tbsp oregano ($.03)
1 1/2 tsp chili powder ($.03)
1/2 tsp cumin ($.04)
1/2 tsp salt (penny)
1/2 tsp pepper (penny)
2 cups shredded cheese (I use mexican blend) ($1.67 on sale)
10 oz can red enchilada sauce ($1.18)
8 flour tortillas (8 inch)  (approx. $.80)

In a large skillet, brown ground beef with onion powder and minced garlic. While that is cooking, put the following ingredients in a mason jar (or a bowl... I just like mixing in jars!): tomato paste, water, worcestershire sauce, paprika, oregano, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Mix well then add to ground beef. Bring to a simmer and cook covered, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Prepare one 9x13 pan by pouring a dollop of enchilada sauce and swirling around to cover the bottom. Warm tortillas slightly (so they are rolled easily) and fill each with a small scoop of meat mixture and a couple tablespoons worth of shredded cheese. Add to pan and continue until all tortillas are used. Pour remaining enchilada sauce (and meat mixture - if any is left!) over all enchilada rolls and top with shredded cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes uncovered.

$7.29 or $.91 per serving!

** I like to split this into two 9x6 foil pans (putting 4 enchiladas in each pan). Four enchiladas works for our family since we usually have tacos too because the kiddos don't care too much for enchiladas! I know... blasphemy! You can serve one pan the day you make them and seal the other to put in the freezer for another day. Simply thaw and bake!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

How we do rice...

Rice is a food staple in every frugal kitchen but there is an economical way to buy and a super economical way to buy.

First, there is name brand versus generic. I personally don't see a difference in taste or texture - I believe it's all in how you prepare the rice. Here's an example of difference in pricing (using our local Wal-mart):

Mahatma 32 oz $2.16 vs. Great Value Brand 32 oz $1.48
$1.08 per pound vs. $.74 per pound OR $.07 per ounce vs. $.05 per ounce
Let's say you go through 4 pounds per week. That's a savings of $70.72 a year! Just buying generic over brand name rice.

Second, there is Instant versus Long Grain Enriched (generically speaking of course):

Instant 28 oz $2.44 vs. Long Grain 32 oz $1.48
$.09 per ounce vs. $.05 per ounce.
If you use 4 pounds of rice per week then that's a savings of $133.12 per year! It's sort of obvious that instant rice is NOT the way to go.

Then lastly there is buying rice in bulk:
Great Value 32 oz $1.48 vs. Great Value 20 lb $8.98
That's $.74 per pound vs. $.45 per pound OR $.05 per ounce vs. $.03 per ounce.
Again, if you use 4 pounds per week that's a savings of $66.56 per year just by buying in bulk!
And just because I love divulging numbers so much... the savings of buying bulk generic versus buying name brand rice is a whopping savings of $133.12 per year!

What's more... just because you can always kick it up a notch... we buy our rice in bulk at Sam's Club. While the savings aren't as dramatic - it's savings nonetheless.

We buy the 25 pound bags of Riceland at Sam's Club for $8.89 and if you compare that to the 20 pound bags of Great Value Brand at your everyday Wal-Mart store that's a savings of $33.28 per year which is awesome! If you don't have a membership to Sam's Club (which I do not, but my step-mother does!) then buying the 20 pound bags at Wal-Mart is still an awesome deal!

Bottom line - Generic rice is just as good as brand name and is significantly cheaper but to really get those savings buy your generic rice in bulk!

So you've bought rice in bulk... how do you store it? There are multiple ways and if you do it correctly then rice can last a super long time. I currently store mine in leftover pickle jars with a couple oxygen absorbers in each one to keep the air exposure at a minimum. You can buy oxygen absorbers on for super cheap if you're into long term food storage. Don't have a clue what those are? They are those tiny packets that you sometimes find in food bags that say "DO NOT EAT" - they are strictly for removing oxygen from the inside of a bag to maintain freshness.
If I buy more rice then I will likely put them in storage bags and keep them in a sealed food grade bucket in my basement to limit exposure to air and light. Whatever storage method you choose the one thing you should not do is store all 25 lbs together in the original bag. Once opened you have to worry about the rice going stale or little buggies finding their way in and making a home in your stored food!

So, now you have your rice but what's the best way to cook it?
This is how I do (without a rice cooker): For every one cup of rice I use 2 cups of water and 1 tsp of salt with 1 Tbsp butter. Cooking it is incredibly simple. Bring the water, salt and butter to a boil. Once at a rolling boil, stir in rice and cover. Turn the burner down very low and let simmer WITHOUT removing the lid or stirring for 15 minutes. Then remove from heat and let it sit another 5 minutes. Then at last you can fluff with a fork and serve! Add some variation by using broth instead of water (or add a couple bouillon cubes to the water) but drop the salt! Throw in some minced garlic or onion. White rice is so versatile and can be paired with almost any dish! It's a great meal stretcher.

Mama's Mojo

So there are many marinades out there for pork but if you have never gone the Cuban route then you should definitely give it a try. I threw the following ingredients together and they sang a beautiful symphony!

3 cups orange juice
2 lemons juiced
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 head garlic minced
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1 onion rough chopped

Combine and let the marinade sit and mingle flavors for 30 minutes. Then add your pork cut of choice and marinade for 24 hours (or minimum overnight) and cook. 

What I like to do is boil the marinade for 10 minutes, to get rid of the nasty raw bacteria, and add a couple tablespoons of cornstarch to thicken it into a sauce for the pork. Perfect for a Cubano sandwich. Yummy!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Honey Garlic Chicken ($1.05 per serving)

Here's a great chicken dish that pairs wonderfully with white rice. Once the sauce is thickened it reminds me of sweet and sour sauce. Very tasty! This also makes a great freeze ahead meal. Simply mix all ingredients in a freezer bag and lay flat to freeze. Thaw overnight.

You'll need:

8 pieces chicken thighs, legs or 4 of each (approx. $2.80)
1/2 cup ketchup ($.17)
1/2 cup honey ($.80)
1/2 cup brown sugar ($.14)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar ($.15)
2 tsp soy sauce ($.04)
2 tsp minced garlic ($.05)
1 tsp garlic salt (pennies)
1/4 tsp dry mustard (pennies)
1/4 tsp salt (negligible)

Mix all ingredients and pour sauce over chicken in baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes covered and then another 30 minutes uncovered. Also cooks very well in the pressure cooker (my prefered way!) for 12 minutes on high pressure.
Remove chicken and thicken sauce with cornstarch. Serve with white rice. Makes 4 servings for only $4.18!!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mama's Bean & Bacon Chili Bake ($1.27 per serving)

There's an epic combination out there that is hard not to love. When put together in a dish they provide a hearty rib-sticking meal that makes you feel all warm and bloated inside - in the best possible way. I'm referring to the 3 B's... Beans, Beef and BACON! There are many flavors you can use to bring each one of these 3 ingredients together in perfect harmony. This one is my favorite way. It's a little tangy and a little smokey, a little sweet and a little savory. The flavors are just plain awesome. It's definitely a more expensive recipe if you go out and purchase all of the ingredients specifically for this recipe. It's frugal to me because it includes items that I almost always have on hand on any given day. This recipe is definitely like a chili so if you'd rather just let it simmer on the stovetop rather than bake it in the oven then that'd probably work out okay! If you don't like the tanginess effect of the cider vinegar you could leave this out as well.

You'll need:

1 1/2 lbs ground beef (approx. $4.48)
1 tbsp onion powder ($.08)
1 tsp salt (negligible)
2 cans pork & beans ($1 on sale)
1 can Rotel (Mild, Regular or Hot... I like Mild for our family), drained ($.98)
1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes, drained ($.63)
9 oz of your favorite BBQ sauce (about half of a standard bottle) ($.50 on sale)
1/2 cup ketchup ($.15)
4 Tbsp brown sugar ($.25)
2 Tbsp mustard ($.05)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce ($.05)
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar ($.03)
12 oz package of bacon ($1.99 on sale)

Brown the ground beef with onion powder and salt, In a separate pan cook the bacon then set aside. Drain off fat from the ground beef but then add back in about 2 Tbsp of the bacon grease. This sounds counterintuitive but it adds a yumminess factor! Once the beef is browned all all remaining ingredients, except for the bacon, and simmer for 10 minutes covered.
Pour all into a greased (why not use bacon grease?!) 9x13 baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes covered and then another 10 minutes or so. Let it sit about 5 or 10 minutes before eating because it will be super duper hot.
Serve with cornbread or put it on top of some cornbread waffles! Makes 8 servings for $10.19!

Cornbread waffles you say? Why yes, they are a fantastic pairing! I go simple and use a box of Jiffy corn muffin mix. Add 2 Tbsp melted shortening, 1 egg and 1/2 cup milk and cook on a waffle iron! One box makes about 2 big 'ol belgian waffle size waffles which works well for a family of four. Just throw this chili bake right on top of that bad boy and enjoy!

Friday, May 22, 2015

I can explain...

What a super busy 12 months I've had! Posts have been non-existent. Apologies!

Excuse #1: My husband came home from a 13.5 month business trip - without a break in between I might add! When he got home we took an amazing vacation to the Dominican Republic and then spent the majority of the summer of 2014 cuddling and loving each other. I gave him and my family undivided attention.  :-)

Excuse #2: I was PREGNANT! I found myself doing numerous things around the house to prepare for our little bundle of joy... when I wasn't suffering from morning sickness that is!

Excuse #3: I HAD A BABY!! We welcomed our newest baby boy mid-March 2015. So blessed to have our little Woodchip! :-)

Taking care of a newborn is a super busy job but I'd like to attempt to begin posting regularly again! We'll see how that goes... but for now I'm excited and am enjoying life immensely!